For Malaysian master, Lee it has of course been a longer and tougher road due to his eight-month doping suspension and the manner in which he fought past a sturdy performance by Viktor Axelsen would have given the former world No. 1 a lot of comfort.
It was not easy, and sometimes not even pretty, but – having initially looked a shadow of the well-oiled machinery he has traditionally been – Lee was nearing the jump-smashing excellence which has been his long-honed trademark by the end. Fans applauded loudly as he soared high to carve out a 12-21 21-17 21-14 route to the last eight in Men’s Singles.
“I have been trying my best; trying to regain confidence. I am not 100 per cent yet. I am still coming back. I have had some bad results but I am playing better and I’m happy to reach my first quarter-final (this year),” a smiling Lee told reporters.
Nehwal too showcased some of her best stuff since the World Superseries resumption while at the same time banishing ghosts of matches past as she overcame Japan’s Minatsu Mitani who had defeated her in their recent meetings in Japan and Denmark.
Moving fluidly, stretching and contorting her athletic frame freely, the Indian top player stood up to the challenge which the gritty Japanese posed and, unlike previous episodes, met it resolutely, finishing authoritatively 21-19 21-16.
“It was totally different. I was moving well. I’m surprised how well I was moving actually. Since last Thursday (when I lost in Denmark) I have had some time to take care of my right leg and hip. That’s been the problem I have had since after the World Championships and which was affecting my movement,” noted Nehwal, who flourished in the first half of this season.
Meanwhile, Carolina Marin needed all her experience and fighting qualities to squeeze past Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour in a strange encounter which saw the Women’s Singles World champion plummet in the second game and falling 14-10 behind in the decider before clambering home, 21-15 7-21 21-16.
“I felt bad out there. I just tried to keep the shuttle in and not think about strategy. I’m happy to win and get to play again tomorrow,” declared the Spanish sensation.
Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara recorded her maiden victory over one of China’s top three players, ousting a listless Wang Yihan in straight games. The Yonex Open Japan winner triumphed 21-13 21-14 to celebrate the notable milestone.
“This is the third time I played her and each time I felt I was getting closer so I was more confident on this occasion,” stated Okuhara whose male counterpart, Sho Sasaki, got the better of fellow Japanese, Kento Momota (15-21 21-19 21-19).
Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong also savoured a special moment, romping to his first Men’s Singles World Superseries quarter-finals, beating India’s HS Prannoy (21-15 21-10); the latter unable to hit the heights which saw him conquer Lin Dan yesterday.
There was some riveting Women’s Doubles with Bulgaria’s Stoeva sisters – Gabriela and Stefani – outgunning China’s BAO Yixin/Zhong Qianxin (21-17 19-21 21-12) and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari/Greysia Polii collapsing with exhaustion after an epic comeback versus Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee (9-21 21-18 21-19) in 78 minutes.
“I can’t believe it! It’s our first Superseries quarter-finals! We didn’t expect this. I’m so happy,” shrieked a thrilled Stefani Stoeva.
“We beat the Chinese. Nobody expects this from some girls from Bulgaria. Maybe our country doesn’t even exist on their map! It’s so amazing!”
For Christinna Pedersen, the mood was markedly different. It was a bad day at the office for Danish doubles specialist as she and her respective partners lost in the Women’s and Mixed categories. She and Kamilla Rytter Juhl could not match Korean duo Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan (21-17 21-18) and later Pedersen and Joachim Fischer Nielsen toiled to no avail against Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto (16-21 21-17 21-17).
In Men’s Doubles, various top pairs progressed, including Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong of Korea, despite a test (21-9 29-30 21-14) from Hirokatsu Hashimoto/Noriyasu Hirata of Japan. However, another Korean pair – Ko Sung Hyun/Shin Baek Cheol – were upset, 16-21 23-21 21-17, by Chen Hung Ling/Wang Chi-Lin of Chinese Taipei.