GLASGOW, Scotland — This wasn’t what Lee Chong Wei put off retirement for.
He’d beaten Brice Leverdez seven times previously, including in March as he was winning another All England Open.
But on Tuesday, he couldn’t shrug off the Frenchman and his 10th attempt to win a first badminton world championship ended with his worst result: Defeat in the first round by 21-19, 22-24, 21-17.
The great Chong Wei, runner-up at three worlds and both Olympics since 2011, lost to a non-seed for the first time at the worlds, too.
The Malaysian star suspended retirement after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics to win an elusive world championship. He even lured back his old coach, Misbun Sidek, in July after a six-year separation to work on his mental side. Sidek guided him to No. 1 in the world for the first time in 2006.
But Chong Wei looked nervous and was outplayed at the net by Leverdez, who grinned throughout the 75-minute match and couldn’t believe he’d won.
“I was trying to be as light-hearted as possible,” he said. “Mostly, it was about staying relaxed. I had fun since the first point, no matter if I won or lost the point. at 17-all he lost his mind and gave me the match with three easy points.”
Inevitably, Chong Wei was asked about retirement, even though he’s ranked No. 2 and still a force to reckon with.
“Maybe I’ll retire tomorrow,” he quipped. “Everybody wants to know if I will play until Tokyo 2020. I will see if I have the fire. If I don’t, I’ll retire.”
He showed some fire only at the end of the second game. He came from 18-13 down to lead 20-18. Leverdez leveled, then had two match points and thought he won the second. But Chong Wei challenged the “out” call against him on the line at the umpire’s feet, and was saved by video replay which showed the shuttlecock was in by a millimeter.
Chong Wei had momentum in the third game, and won a rally including a shot between his legs from the baseline. But Leverdez was unfazed. He reached match point again after three unforced errors by Chong Wei, and finished off the second seed with another smash at the net.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Chong Wei said.
He was the only one to make them. Defending two-time champion Chen Long of China won in straight sets, while third-seeded Viktor Axelsen of Denmark won comfortably after losing the first game to Takuma Ueda of Japan.
Chen has a 1-1 record with his next opponent, Sony Dwi Kuncoro, a two-time worlds medalist whose best days were a decade ago. The Indonesian has only two singles wins on tour this year, one of them on Tuesday.
On the women’s side, top-seeded Akane Yamaguchi of Japan and 2013 champ Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand were easy winners.