As mentioned in my prelude, here is the countdown of my top badminton players of all-time.

To start it off:

10. Yang Yang

One of my first memories of enthralling badminton battles involved this Chinese maestro.  Incredibly skilful, his steady play sustained his grip as the world’s best in the 80s.  His matches with Morten Frost are classics of the game.  And since I’m going completely out on a limb now anyway, I might as well say that his rivalry with Frost pretty much defined that particular period of world badminton.

(If you’re not sure, Yang Yang’s the guy with the shorts.  And yes, he used to be much younger in his playing days).

9. Lee Chong Wei

The best singles shuttler Malaysia has produced thus far.  No doubt the product of decades of cutting-edge badminton training distilled from the countless elite coaches Malaysia has employed over the years, he is still retains the undeniably Malaysian trait: inability to overcome the psychological barrier to victory.

I’ve expounded before on the importance of the mental capacity to actually achieve greatness, and to his credit he has been largely successful when he’s not cowed by more decorated opponents (read: Lin Dan).  But he can do so much more.

Foo Kok Keong, a Malaysian stalwart from the 90s, had that persistence and mental toughness, but he didn’t have the skillset.   Kok Keong has exactly the thing Chong Wei lacks.

Let not my criticism blind you to the fact: I admire the Chong Wei.  I’m a fan, no doubt about that.  But as I said before, I love badminton, I love our players, but they break my heart every time.

Could it be that Malaysians simply expect too much from their players?  Are we unreasonable to expect trophies after trophies?  Are the public simply nuts to want Chong Wei be a name mothers frighten their badminton-playing children into obedience, like the way they do with the boogeyman (and nowadays, Michael Jackson)?

There is nothing immediately characteristic about his play – he’s a excellent all-rounder, a fantastic retriever with great court coverage.  However, he seldom attacks, prefers to run his opponents around rather than to go for the kill.  He sometimes does this to such an extreme that I feel like tearing my hair out.  This is because when he does attack, he is irresistible.

World Number 1 he may be at present, but nobody who watches badminton closely believes he is the true No 1.  Not unless he manages to do justice to his superior fitness and technical ability and stop losing games he should comfortably win.

8. Markis Kido/Hendra Setiawan

Of all the badminton events where the style of play have evolved over the years, the men’s and women’s doubles seems to have been affected the most.  The game used to be characterized with frequent smashes and brilliant defenses.  Now, the game is miles quicker, more drives and the player in front of the net is a more tactical player than ever before.

Of all the ‘new’ pairs out in the world, this young Indonesian pairing is by far the most interesting, lethal and, wait for it, fun to watch.

I don’t care that they are not winning at the moment.  We’re talking about the reigning World Champions and the holders of the Olympics Gold in 2008, a pair that was formidable before 2008, and will continue to hover at the top of the rankings in 2009.

Kido is the standard power player who can actually play at the net.  Setiawan plays sometimes like he’s from another planet – the sort of shots that he can improvise sometimes defy belief.  When I watch Setiawan, I’m reminded of a football freestyler – a skilful ball player who can do things with the ball that you’ve never seen before (go check out Youtube if you don’t know what a freestyler is).

The only other pair that I think can generate such excitement of play is Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong.  There is only one difference between the two pairs: you can believe Kido/Setiawan will win titles, and that’s why they are here.

Coming up tomorrow, more players down the list!

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