Chinese badminton great Lin Dan said he expected an uphill battle to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after he crashed out in the Hong Kong Open's first round on Wednesday.
The former world number one had the backing of a raucous crowd against top-ranked Kento Momota, who was left flat-footed in the second game before wearing out Lin in the decider 21-19, 12-21, 21-15.
Lin was agile but inconsistent on court, twice yielding leads of five or more points over his Japanese opponent before the second game's blowout and faltering in the final minutes of the 76-minute match.
“I'm a bit sorry for the third set. There were two unforced errors that I made that changed the lead,” he told AFP afterwards.
It was Lin's third straight loss from four matches against Momota, who has been in searing form this year and is favourite to take out his fifth World Tour title for the year this week.
Momota, who was expelled from the Japanese team for the 2016 Rio Olympics and banned for over a year for visiting an illegal casino, has shot to the top of the world rankings since returning to the sport.
Lin, a gold medallist at both Beijing and London, is not counting out the prospect of a fifth Olympics appearance in 2020 but the 35-year-old is guarded about his chances.
“It all depends because there are very many strong players in China. They're very strong so I have to be on top of them,” he said.
Now 28th in the world rankings, Lin would have to climb back into the top 16 to secure a second spot on the Chinese singles squad. He also faces a top-flight Chinese squad brimming with young talent including second-ranked singles player Shi Yuqi and number five Chen Long.
Shi retired with injury four minutes into his first match Wednesday while Chen sailed into the second round with a 21-16, 21-16 victory over Malaysia's Daren Liew.
India's Kidambi Srikanth saw off local challenger Vincent Wong within half an hour while third-ranked Chou Tien Chen couldn't maintain his dominance over Korea's Lee Dong Keun, who bounced back to see off the third seed 8-21, 23-21, 22-20.
In the women's singles, China's Chen Yufei lost her first round match 21-14, 10-21, 20-22 after squandering an early advantage against 24th-ranked Pornpawee Chochuwong.
Taiwan's top-ranked Tai Tzu Ying, Indian superstar P.V. Sindhu and second seed Akane Yamaguchi all saw off spirited challengers to make the final 16.
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