LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) - Former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat convincingly won his first round men’s singles match to stay on a collision course with Chinese arch-rival Lin Dan as the London Games’ badminton tournament kicked off on Saturday.
Hidayat’s opponent, Czech cancer survivor Petr Koukal, won admirers just for being at the tournament.
Indonesian Hidayat, perhaps the only player to have ever got under world number one Lin’s skin, barely broke sweat as he toppled the towering Koukal 21-8 21-8 at a still and muggy Wembley Arena.
Hidayat, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Games, faces another group match against Spain’s Pablo Abian on Tuesday before a likely round of 16 encounter against reigning champion Lin.
The 30-year-old Hidayat has failed to reach the heights of his world title-winning days in the middle of the last decade, but Lin was a keen observer in the stands of the player he shared a string of spats with in years past.
“I’ll try to do my best in my last Olympics but Lin Dan is the best in the world,” a pessimistic Hidayat told reporters.
“When I was young, (I could beat anyone). Now I am old.”
Koukal carried the flag for the Czech Republic at Friday’s opening ceremony and appeared drained as he clambered in vain after sweetly-timed drop-shots and smashes.
Less than two years ago, Koukal feared for his life after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent months of chemotherapy after having emergency surgery.
He started training again last year and his Olympic qualification was hailed as a “Lance Armstrong” effort by Czech media, in reference to the American cyclist who overcame testicular cancer before going on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles.
The rangy Koukal was disappointed with his performance against Taufik, however, and said his late night duty as Czech flag bearer probably had not helped.
“About a year and a half ago I wasn’t really sure I would be alive so this is a win for me just to be here,” he said.
“I was honoured to carry the flag, so I couldn’t say no.”
Britain’s Union Jack flag was ever-present in the packed 4,800 seat venue and local fans greeted mixed doubles medal hopes Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier with a thunderous roar when they marched on court.
But after a promising start, the British world silver medallists were ground down 14-21 21-9 21-18 by the disciplined Russian pairing of Aleksandr Nikolaenko and Valerya Sorokina.
“We got a great start, our tactics were bang on ... unfortunately we didn’t keep the pressure on them in the second and they got the momentum,” Adcock said.
“It definitely wasn’t stage fright, it was the fact that they managed to change their tactics to combat ours and they obviously did that very successfully.”
The British pair face an uphill battle to make the knockout round of 16 and must finish in the top two of their tough Group A which features the Chinese world number one pairing of Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei.
Twelve years after winning a men’s doubles gold for Indonesia at the 2000 Sydney Games, Tony Gunawan’s hopes of a dream debut for his adopted United States were dashed when he and partner Howard Bach lost in straight sets to South Korea’s second seeded pairing of Chung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae.
After Adcock and Bankier’s early loss, Briton Susan Egelstaff brought some cheer back to the home crowd when she disposed of Slovenia’s Maja Tvrdy 21-15 21-10 in the women’s singles. Tvrdy admitted rowdy local fans had thrown her off.
“I don’t usually hear anything but today I could hear the clapping,” she said. “They were even clapping when I made a mistake. It wasn’t really fair.”
Adcock and Bankier have their last-chance saloon against 22nd-ranked Germans Michael Fuchs and Birgit Michels when the badminton continues on Sunday, while world number five Saina Nehwal, India’s greatest hope of a maiden badminton medal, starts her women’s singles campaign against Swiss Sabrina Jaquet. (Editing by Justin Palmer)