Tuesday 22 August 2017
Arms outstretched and racket tumbling to the floor, Brice Leverdez couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief as he sent Lee Chong Wei crashing out of the TOTAL BWF World Championships in the first round.
Lee entered this tournament as one of the favourites to be crowned world champion come Sunday, the Malaysian still desperately searching for his maiden title on this stage after reaching four finals.
This was to be his time - a likely final World Championships as he fast approaches the end of his career, but Frenchman Leverdez had other ideas, despite having only prevailed over his opponent on one occasion.
Lee started the strongest however, racing into an early lead as his opponent steadily found his feet at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, but it took until 19-19 to finally separate the two as Leverdez took the first set.
The second set was one that will be recalled for some time, as Leverdez dominated the middle stages and twice held match-point, the latter of which was overturned in Lee’s favour by a Hawkeye replay as he came back from the brink of elimination to draw the scores level.
Many watching on in the crowd expected the deciding set to be the end of Lee’s blip in form, and for some time, it looked as though that would be the case as he held a 14-9 lead.
But yet again, Leverdez found a mental edge rarely seen in the 31-year-old, taking point after point to claw back level, before eventually triumphing 21-19 22-24 21-17.
“I’m really happy, I was relaxed on the court and that was the way I wanted to play,” Leverdez said.
“I prepared very well, I usually don’t play well when I train hard like this, but I managed to make a difference in my mentality on the court.
“I was able to play with no stress, I know I am the underdog when I play Lee Chong Wei and usually I would have put pressure on myself to play well, but this time I wanted to play my game, joke on court with myself and it will be fine.
“After the second set I felt okay, I knew I could take the shot [to win the match], it was stupid for me to not take that point and then I had to play one more game.
“The confidence is the same, if it’s Lee Chong Wei or anyone else I have to play the same game, if I play like this, relaxed and confident, then it’s okay, but if I take it too easy then I will lose. I know I have to play 100 per cent again tomorrow.”
His premature departure from Glasgow marks a second early exit in succession for Lee, having fallen in the last 16 at June’s BCA Indonesia Open.
But despite disappointment in defeat, the 34-year-old was quick to praise his opponent, yet there is no doubt he will soon be back to his dominant best.
“It’s ok, I just tried my best but I don’t think I played so well,” he said.
“Brice played so well today, I just tried and he had the lead for a lot of the second game and today he was very lucky.
“Today I put a lot of pressure on myself and I made a lot of mistakes, I just need to relax to get my focus back.”
Article and film by Sportsbeat.
History was made on finals day at the TOTAL BWF World Championships as Viktor Axelsen became the first European player to win men’s singles gold in 20 years.