2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui has retired from international badminton, leaving just two champions from the London Games still competing, while 3 remain from the Beijing Games in 2008.
Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto
Sidelined by injury once again at the recent Korea Open, former Olympic champion Li Xuerui has decided to hang up her racquet, calling time on a brilliant career that ended up shorter than it probably should have been. Her decision was reported yesterday on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) website.
Li Xuerui made her first mark as a junior back in 2008, when she won the Asian Junior Championship title. She was blocked from the final four at the World Juniors that year by Sayaka Sato and the title went to Saina Nehwal.
In her last year of junior eligibility, Li joined many other contenders and future greats – including Sato, Tai Tzu Ying, Carolina Marin, and Sung Ji Hyun – in skipping the World Juniors and instead, she and Sato, Tai, Sung, as well as compatriots Wang Shixian and Wang Xin, chose 2009 as their breakout year on the senior stage. By the time Li Xuerui had beaten reigning Asian Games gold medallist Wang Chen and reigning World Champion Lu Lan to reach the semi-finals of the China Open at age 18, Wangs Xin and Shixan had reached the final of the Malaysia Grand Prix Gold, Sato had a Grand Prix title, Tai had played a Grand Prix final, and even Sung Ji Hyun had beaten the then world #1 in Macau.
Although the stage was set for this new and powerful generation of women’s singles, the sheer quantity of talent made it hard for her to make a huge impact in her first couple of years. But despite Wang Yihan, Wang Lin, and Jiang Yanjiao cementing their places at the top and veterans like Tine Baun and Juliane Schenk continuing their runs at the top, Li still picked up two major titles – the Asian Championships and Macau Open – and reached her first Superseries final before leaving her teen years.
Again in 2011, Li was limited to two Grand Prix Gold titles and another French Open final and by the end of the year, had barely peered into the world’s top 10 but by 2012, it all changed. After a shaky start, Li went on a romp, taking the German Open, the All England, and then the Asian Championships and India Open just before the end of the Olympic qualifying period. She was selected for London despite being ranked ‘last’ among China’s mighty quartet, ranked 1 through 4 in the world and by the end of the summer, she had Olympic gold.
Li Xuerui then finished off the year with 3 more Superseries titles in quick succession and ascended to #1 in the world for the first time. By the time her dream of a repeat Olympic gold ended in injury in Rio in 2016, Li had collected 14 Superseries titles, a mark surpassed by only 2 other women’s singles players. She also had 6 Grand Prix Gold and two Asian titles.
Li began a comeback in 2018 and won two Super 100 and two Super 300 titles. Her best result this year was reaching the final of the New Zealand Open, where she lost out to rising star An Se Young of Korea.
Li Xuerui is remembered as the last Chinese player – so far – to stand at the pinnacle of the women’s singles world. After her gold medal in London, China has been denied World or Olympic titles in what was once one of their strongest disciplines. Li herself had to concede the final at the Worlds in both 2013 and 2014, although she and Wang Yihan decided Asian Games gold in Incheon with a final that Wang ended up winning.
Her departure means that Lin Dan and Zhang Nan remain the only London gold medallists still competing. By contrast, from among the winners of gold in Beijing back in 2008, Lin is accompanied by both reigning World Champion Hendra Setiawan and by Lee Yong Dae, who came back from retirement last year.
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