Peter Gade enjoyed a fairy tale ending to his 17 year long career as a badminton player when he beat China superstar Lin Dan in an exhibition match at the Copenhagen Masters on Thursday. Gade won the match in three sets, 20-22, 21-16, 21-14.
Gade, now 36, was ranked as the world number one between 1998 and 2001 and briefly regained the spot in 2006. He won neither the World Championship nor the Olympic Games but was the All England champion in 1999 and a five time European champion and won 22 Grand Prix titles.
He is regarded as one of the all time greatest badminton players and was a boyhood idol of his opponent Lin who had accepted a personal invitation from Gade to play him in his farewell match.
The crowd was wearing Gade masks on their faces and Gade emerged covered in artificial smoke as the Danish badminton star entered the court as a professional for the very last time. Tickets at the Copenhagen venue Falconer Salen were sold out in just about seven minutes as everyone wanted to say a final goodbye to Gade.
Lin for his part was playing for the first time in Denmark. The Chinese super star has taken some time out from badminton following his gold medal victory at the London Olympics earlier this year and is not expected to return to competitive action until March but wanted to be a part of Gade's farewell.
"He is a bit older than me but Peter was one of my idols and I watched all his matches. It is fantastic for me to be playing against Peter in his farewell match after all these years. He has been part of the game for more than 15 years and his talent comes naturally," Lin told Danish television TV2 Sport prior to the match.
Even royalty offered its salute to Gade in the shape of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik who said:
"Peter Gade has done a huge amount for Danish badminton. He has got fantastic charisma and has been the strongest Danish player of the last 15 years. He has shown incredible persistence to be part of the elite for so many years. Peter Gade is the most well known Dane in China besides H.C. Andersen. The fact that Lin Dan comes here to play Peter in his final match says everything about just how big a name Peter is."
Boasting a record as four times world champion, five times All England champion and two times Olympic champion, the 29 year old Lin is arguably the biggest badminton star on the world scene of the past decade.
He did appear somewhat out of touch in the beginning of the match though, as Gade raced into a 7-0 lead which he expanded to 11-2 and 14-5. Lin made a lot of unforced errors and sent balls slightly wide or long. Gade had only defeated Lin three times in official competition throughout his career while Lin had beat Gade 17 Times. They met for the first time in the Danish Open of 2002 which Gade won in three sets.
This time Gade looked to be cruising but slowly Lin came back into his stride. His shots started hitting the line instead of going out and he started scoring points by hitting hard smashes, dictating play and bossing Gade around the court. Lin went from behind 16-9 to 16-16, equalising with a clever drop shot.
Lin went in front 19-17 but then Gade won three point in a row to get a set point at 20-19. However, Lin then won two in a row to get set point and then laid it on the line to take the first set 22-20. Lin increasingly dominated front court and stole the initiative while Gade was left blaming himself for having relinguished a huge lead.
Second set started more equally with the score of 3-3. Then Gade got into his typical aggressive style of play and pressed Lin whenever he could. Gade went 11-6 in front, then 17-11 before taking the set at his second set point, 21-16.
Rallies were clearly taking their toll on the aging Gade. He could not quite match the pace and stamina of Lin who in turn looked a bit rusty.
In the break between second and third set Danish national coach Lars Uhre told Gade to stay aggressive and keep trying to dominate front court as that was the key to victory. It meant a risk of getting caught by Lin's longer shots, running a lot and getting tired but the tactics paid off.
Third set saw a lot of close encounters at the net and shots played very close to the line. Gade gradually began building a lead and went in front 12-7 following a counter strike, then 16-9 with a powerful smash. Lin lost his concentration and reverted to committing several unforced errors as he did in the beginning.
Gade got his match points ahead 20-11 but missed three of them before winning 21-14 and closing out his final match to the overwhelming enjoyment of the capacity crowd.
"This morning I was very nervous but I enjoyed playing the game once I got here and went into game mode. I am very honoured that you set this whole thing up for me tonight. It was a difficult day. I want to thank Lin Dan for coming here," Gade said as he addressed the crowd.
Lin also had a word of recognition for Gade as he was interviewed by television:
"My feelings are complicated. Hopefully I will see him again very soon. I will miss playing him in the future. He is one of the greatest players in the world. People here love badminton and I loved the atmosphere. I hope I can come to Denmark Open next year."