The men’s singles division is talent-studded, with the sport’s best jockeying for the top of the rankings. Getting to the top is a feat in and of itself, but those who maintain their reign atop the rankings foreshadow their statuses as the future greats of the sport. One player not only held the top spot but did so for 76 consecutive weeks. I’m talking about none other than the Chinese men’s singles phenomenon, Chen Long!
Famous for his 76-week grip on the World Number One Ranking, Chen Long is a three-time Olympian who was always on the podium. He represented China in 2012, 2016, and 2020, winning bronze, gold, and silver, respectively. Chen Long is also a two-time World Champion and a two-time All-England champion. Also among Chen Long’s accolades are an Asian Championship title, 20 Super Series titles, and five Grand Prix titles. He was also instrumental in the Chinese team’s decade-long dominance of the Sudirman Cup and helped China to three Thomas Cup victories. He has faced and defeated many of the sport’s greats, including the likes of Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, and Viktor Axelsen.
Join me as we look at Chen Long’s career and the accomplishments that set him up to be one of the sport’s greatest singles players!
Chen Long was born on January 18, 1989, in Shashi District, Hubei Province, China. As early as kindergarten, Chen Long displayed physical prowess that outmatched many other children his age.
In an interview with Badminton World Federation (BWF) TV, Chen Long recollects his early memories of being selected by badminton coaches. For the first few months after his drafting, he recalled not playing any badminton. Three months later, a coach selected him, convinced of his potential to do well in the sport.
As soon as Chen Long turned seven, he began channeling his athleticism into badminton. At the age of 12, he caught the eyes of the Xiamen Team, where he sharpened his skills until joining the Youth National Team in 2006.
Chen Long spent a year at the National Team training and competing in various tournaments to gain experience. Winning nearly all of them, Chen Long entered the 2007 China Masters despite being only 17.
Chen Long faced unfavorable odds, being one of the seeded players for the preliminary stages. Unfortunately, Chen Long failed to advance past the round of 32 stages, losing to You Hao by a walkover.
The loss didn’t deter the young and indomitable Chen Long. Just a few days later, he joined another tournament where he faced the best youth players Asia had to offer: the 2007 Asian Junior Badminton Championships.
At the Asian Junior Badminton Championships, Chen Long competed in the boys’ singles event. He advanced past the semi-finals to face Malaysia’s Mohamad Arif Abdul Latif in the finals.
The finals match was tense as both players snatched one game each. Forcing the match into a third game, Chen Long and Mohamad Latif fought tooth and nail to claim victory. Eventually, Chen Long established a crucial two-point lead, beating his Malaysian opponent in the third game 22 – 20. The victory marked Chen Long’s first title at a major youth badminton tournament.
Chen Long continued his winning ways three months later when he competed at the BWF World Junior Championships. Having already won the Asian Junior Championships, Chen Long entered the competition confidently. As he did in the Asian Junior Championships, Chen Long dominated the boys’ singles event to reach the finals.
Awaiting him in the finals was Japan’s Kenichi Tago. Chen Long made short work of Tago as he won the match in straight sets. The victory gave Chen Long his second major junior title in his debut year as a youth player.
With two major junior championship titles to his name, he was ready to debut as a senior player.
Chen Long’s Early Career
After winning the World Junior Championships, the National Team drafted Chen Long in 2008. Chen Long officially debuted as a senior player a year after he entered the Senior National Team.
Chen Long made his senior debut in 2009 at the German Open. At the 2009 German Open, Chen Long advanced as far as the semi-finals where he faced his compatriot, Gong Weijie. The match went the way of Gong Weijie, meaning that Chen Long had to settle for bronze in his senior debut.
A month later, Chen Long bagged another bronze finish at the 2009 India Open. Just as he did at the German Open, he bowed out after losing in the semi-finals.
Chen Long’s best result came in mid-2009 at the Philippines Open. This time, Chen Long dominated the entire men’s singles event, reaching the finals.
In the finals, Chen Long faced Hong Kong’s Hu Yun. Chen Long’s desire for a gold medal finish was apparent as he showed his opponent no corner, dominating Hu Yun in straight sets. Chen Long had finally won his first title as a professional!
After the Philippines Open, Chen Long played at the 2010 Korea Super Series. Making it as far as the semi-finals, Chen Long faced Denmark’s Peter Gade. The Danish magician outclassed Chen Long by winning the third game 21 – 17. Despite the loss, Chen Long walked away with a bronze medal.
Chen Long redeemed himself with title victories in two major BWF events. In August 2010, Chen Long won the Bitburger Open by defeating Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus in a match that went the distance. The title haul didn’t end there, as Chen Long went on to claim his third title of 2010 at the China Open Super Series. In the finals, he defeated his compatriot Bao Chunlai in a fiercely fought match that was decided by a third game.
2011 was a stellar year for Chen Long. At the start of the year, he put on podium-worthy performances at the BWF Super Series Finals and Malaysia Open. Chen Long followed up his outings in these tournaments with a stunning title victory at the 2011 Thailand Open.
Later in 2011, Chen Long won the Denmark Open by once again beating Lee Chong Wei in straight sets.
In his first three years as a senior player, Chen Long ascended the rankings with his victories. He shot up to the number four spot in the World Rankings, establishing himself as the highest-ranked Chinese player by 2011.
Always on the Podium: Chen Long’s Olympic Achievements
Chen Long joined his first Olympic event in 2012 after helping China to another Thomas & Uber Cup victory. At the 2012 London Olympics, Chen Long advanced as far as the semi-finals to face Lee Chong Wei again. The Malaysian legend’s desire to avenge his Denmark Open loss was palpable as he defeated Chen Long decisively in straight games.
The semi-final loss meant that Chen Long had to play for the bronze medal. Standing in his way to an Olympic bronze medal was South Korea’s Lee Hyun-Il.
The first game went Chen Long’s way, with Chen winning 21 – 12. Lee came from behind in the second game to beat Chen Long 21 – 15. In the third game, Chen Long emerged victorious by winning his first Olympic medal.
Chen Long returned for another shot at Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. There, he defeated Viktor Axelsen in the semi-finals to reach the finals. Awaiting Chen Long in the finals was none other than Lee Chong Wei.
Determined to avenge his loss at the 2012 Olympics, Chen Long battled his Malaysian opponent for more than one hour. After winning two straight games, Chen Long emerged victorious in an Olympic finals match that was one for the ages. He had finally become an Olympic gold medalist.
Chen Long returned in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to defend his Olympic title. Chen dominated the men’s singles event, blowing past Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting in the semi-finals. Awaiting Chen Long in the finals was a shuttler he defeated at the 2016 Olympics — Viktor Axelsen.
Viktor Axelsen showed Chen Long no corner as he won the match in straight sets. Chen Long’s loss was an upset, especially with Chen Long having more wins over his Danish opponent.
Chen Long settled for silver at the 2020 Olympics. After the match, many in China wondered about the sudden drop-off in Chen’s play in the finals. It was soon discovered that Chen Long had sustained a deep ulcerated blister on his left foot that affected his jumps, leaps, and stops.
One can only wonder if things would’ve turned out differently had it not been for the blister.
Becoming World Number One
Between 2012 – 2014, Chen Long amassed multiple titles and runner-up finishes to climb farther atop the rankings. As soon as 2014 rolled in, Chen Long hit the ground running with a stunning title victory at the Korea Open. Adding to the impressiveness of the win was the fact that he defeated Lee Chong Wei in the finals.
Chen Long chalked up runner-up finishes at the 2014 All-England and India Open. Unfortunately, losses followed. The most disappointing ones happened at the 2014 Thomas and Uber Cup and the 2014 Japan Open.
Despite not winning a title since the Korea Open, Chen Long persevered. He competed at the 2014 BWF World Championships, where he once again came face-to-face with Lee Chong Wei in the finals.
The finals match was close. In the first game, Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei were neck and neck. Luckily, Chen snatched a two-point lead to win the first game.
The second game was no different as both players fought tooth and nail. Chen Long amplified the pressure after Lee Chong Wei scored the 19th point. From here, Chen Long showed no corner and won the second game and his first BWF World Championship title.
At the time, Lee Chong Wei was number one in the World Rankings. The victory at the World Championships allowed Chen Long to leapfrog his Malaysian rival, beginning his reign as the new World Number One!
After becoming the top-ranked singles player in the world, Chen Long gripped his position for a staggering 76 weeks.
Records Against Three of the Sport’s Legends
Besides his accomplishments, Chen Long is famous for having some of the best matches against the sport’s top talents.
On multiple occasions, Chen Long has crossed rackets with Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen. The two have faced each other in several high-profile BWF tournaments and the 2020 Olympics. Of the two players, Chen Long has more wins, defeating Axelsen in 14 of their 20 matches.
Chen Long is also one of the few players to have a leg up on Lin Dan in terms of wins. Chen Long and Lin Dan first faced each other in the finals of the 2010 China Masters. Lin Dan won the match. Since then, Chen Long racked up several wins over The GOAT, with the most recent victory being at the 2017 Asia Championships. The victory at the Asia Championships brings Chen Long’s tally to ten, while Lin Dan has nine wins over Chen.
Throughout his career, Chen Long has faced the Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei numerous times. In their 28 meetings, Lee Chong Wei scored more wins against Chen Long, beating Chen 15 times.
What’s Next for Chen Long?
With possibilities still on the horizon for the Chinese shuttler, it’s hard to say where Chen Long’s plans lie.
One thing is for sure:
Whatever he does next, he will have already left his mark on the sport as one of the greatest singles players of all time. Chen Long has had a career that includes multiple Super Series title victories, an Olympic Gold medal, two World Championship titles, and several Grand Prix victories.
Having already done everything a badminton player can, Chen Long’s future place among the greats isn’t a question of “if” — it’s just a matter of when!
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