A chastened Lee Chong Wei returns to action at the Sudirman Cup on Sunday after a doping case which threatened to put paid to his career and Olympic title ambitions.
The long-time world number one will lead Malaysia in Dongguan, China, two weeks after escaping with a backdated eight-month ban for accidentally ingesting a banned anti-inflammatory.
The mixed-teams event is a new start for the two-time Olympic silver-medallist, whose ranking has dropped to 45 since the positive test on a sample given last August and his subsequent suspension in November.
It also represents the first step along a road which the 32-year-old hopes will end with an Olympic gold medal next year in Rio de Janeiro, after his near-misses in 2008 and 2012.
His doping ban expired only on May 1 and any rustiness could be punished in Malaysia’s early matches against South Korea and India, whose rising stars Son Wan-Ho and K. Srikanth are both ranked in the top 10.
Further down the track, Lee could run into his perennial nemesis Lin Dan, playing in front of his home fans along with top-ranked Chen Long as China seek a 10th Sudirman Cup title.
“I’m aware that Srikanth and Wan-Ho have been playing really well. They are a danger to anybody,” Lee said, according to Malaysia’s Star newspaper.
“But I don’t feel it’ll be a problem for me. I’ll just go and try my best as the pressure is not on me.”
While attention will focus on Lee, anything other than a win for China on May 17 would be a shock given their all-conquering record in the sport.
– Taking the biscuit –
Double Olympic singles champion Lin, who denied Lee at both the 2008 and 2012 Games, will also have Rio at the back of his mind as he leads China’s title defence.
World title-holder Chen and boyfriend-girlfriend mixed doubles pair Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei are also part of a formidable Chinese line-up.
India’s challenge will rely heavily on their singles players including Srikanth and H.S. Prannoy, as well as Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu on the women’s side.
But Europe’s top team Denmark arrive in disarray after five top players were kicked out last month in a row over sponsorship by rival cookie companies.
Mathias Boe, Carsten Mogensen, Joachim Fischer Nielsen, Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, who are sponsored by Kjeldsen Cookies, are at odds with Badminton Denmark since it signed a deal with Danisa Cookies.
One point of interest will be the performance of America’s Mathew Fogarty, who at a grandfatherly 58 years old is in line to play against France and Brazil in the opening ties.
However the cookie crumbles, Lee knows that Malaysia will have their work cut out to make it out of their sub-group and into the final stages.
“The Sudirman Cup is a tough competition for us. Both South Korea and India are strong opponents and weâ€™ll have to beat at least one of them to qualify for the quarter-finals,” said Lee.