Carrying Malaysia's hopes of a breakthrough Olympic gold has been a heavy burden for badminton's world number one Lee Chong Wei and it is one he will have to bear alone into his third successive singles final today.

Lee's relief at finally beating Lin Dan at an Olympics, the Chinese great who left him heartbroken in the gold medal deciders at London and Beijing, was written all over his face upon closing out a classic semi-final win on Friday.

After slumping onto the court following his winning cross-court shot, Lee leapt high into the air, pumping his fists in flamboyant celebration, a rarity from the soft-spoken veteran.

Hours later at the Riocentro, that elation may have waned a little as the 33-year-old watched his compatriots blow two championship points to gift the men's doubles title to China's Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan.

Goh V. Shem and Tan Wee Kiong each froze when on the brink of grabbing Malaysia's first-ever gold medal, netting both their serves to hand the initiative back to the Chinese.

Dual gold medallists Fu and Zhang abruptly slammed the door shut on their opportunity.

The Malaysians' loss followed their compatriots' defeat in the mixed doubles final earlier in the week and left Lee with all the pressure again ahead of a tough decider against another Chinese bogey-man in Chen Long.

If Lee was disappointed with his team mates, it is unlikely he would have berated them.

He came within two points of defeating Lin in a thrilling final at London but could not close it out as his opponent played brilliantly in a late flurry to snatch the title.

That heartbreak threatened to be repeated yesterday as Lin rose phantom-like from the dead to save three match points before Lee killed the contest with a nerveless drop-shot.

The Malaysian has spent most of his career at the top of the rankings, but been haunted by his failures on the biggest stages: the finals at the Olympics, world championships and Asian Games.

Banishing the Chinese champion who denied him repeatedly at the sport's most prestigious events will provide a huge confidence boost as he prepares for the last clash of his Olympic swan song.

But he will have to wrestle with more inner demons when he takes on Chen, the bronze medal winner at London.

The 27-year-old conquered Lee in the final at the last two world championships and yesterday tossed aside Danish fourth seed Viktor Axelsen like a rag doll in their semi-final.

Chen has long lived in the shadow of Lin, regarded the finest player of the modern era.

But with the 32-year-old despatched into a bronze medal playoff with Axelsen, Chen will now feel Rio is his moment.

Win or lose, Lee felt fortunate to be competing in a fourth Games at the Riocentro, having dodged a potentially career-ending ban for a positive drug test at the 2014 world championships.

He spent eight months on the sidelines with a provisional suspension before being allowed to return last year by the Badminton World Federation who accepted his claim that he had not intended to dope.

His quick return to the peak of the game was breathtaking, and underscored the Malaysian's resilience and determination to sign off on his own terms.

“It is very unexpected to be able to get back up after the doping incident,” said Lee.

“I'm happy to be qualified in the first place.” 

― Reuters

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