Hidayat off to a flier at Olympics

Taufik Hidayat, the former Olympic champion aiming for a gold medal-winning climax to a great career, began the last lap of his long and colourful journey with a fast win over an unusual opponent.

The 30-year-old Indonesian who expects to retire later this year prevailed 21-8, 21-8 against Petr Koukal, a determined Czech who is accustomed to facing difficult obstacles.

Koukal, who appears to have recovered from testicular cancer diagnosed two years ago, was on court Saturday despite staying up until around 2:00 am carrying the Olympic flag for the Czech Republic.

This may have taken the edge from his performance, and Hidayat generously said so. "I'm not sure what happened to Petr today," he said. "I've seen him before and he was good. But today he was below par."

Hidayat was not however. He was quick in the mid-court exchanges, deft at the net, and resilient in defence. He was also more pro-active in attack than he sometimes is, though perhaps he was allowed to be.

Asked if he could still beat anyone if he played his game at his best, he said: "When I was young - yes. But now I am old."

Earlier Hidayat had said: "I know everyone is talking about Lin Dan (the defending Olympic champion from China) and Lee Chong-Wei (the top seed from Malaysia) but I will try my best."

Although Koukal too was disappointed with his performance, he acknowledged he had done well even to be here. "A year and a half ago I wasn't sure I would be alive," he said. "So this is all extra.

"I think it would have been better for my badminton if I had not gone to the opening ceremony, but this was a life experience, and one I will always remember."

Hidayat will qualify for a last 16 place if he now beats Pablo Abian, the capable world number 34 from Spain.

Earlier Li Xuerui, the 21-year-old All-England champion who unexpectedly squeezed into the draw at the last moment instead of her Chinese compatriot Wang Shixian, the former world number one, began with a 21-5, 21-6 win over Claudia Rivero Modenesi, the world number 95 from Peru.

Meanwhile the gossip intensified as to whether the top seed Lee Chong Wei, would be fit enough to make a full-blown challenge for the title after admitting that he was not fully recovered from his ankle injury.

"I'm training better, and it's about 90 percent recovered," said the Malaysian, who is due to start on Monday against Ville Lang, the eight-times Finnish champion.

"Ville Lang is not a very tough opponent," he said. "In the second round I'll play Simon Santoso, whom I've not played since the Super Series finals (eight months ago).

Lin Dan, the titleholder and many people's unofficial favourite for the title, also starts on Monday, against Scott Evans, the world number 76 from Ireland.

The other man in the big four, Peter Gade, the former world number one from Denmark, begins on Monday against Pedro Martins, the world number 57 from Portugal.

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