Made by BADMINTON STATISTICS
Welcome to my new series where I review some of the legends of the game from a statistical point of view.
I thought this series would examine only the records of retired players, and had some much loved players in mind for the first few installments. Of course, just as I started researching and writing the first couple of entries, a certain player rudely interrupted my carefully planned schedule by announcing his retirement. Clearly I had to drop everything else and jump on the hype train…
Before we start I must make a little disclaimer. I am not entirely sure how BWF counts wins and losses – for example, on bwf.tournamentsoftware walkovers aren’t included in head-to-head scores, but on bwfbadminton.com they are. For my purposes, I am generally not interested in off-court results, so unless anything else is stated I am not including walkovers in any of the statistics, and only World Tour-equivalent or higher ranked tournaments (what was previously called Grand Prix/Gold and up, and had various other permutations before 2006), so for example the 2012 Copenhagen Masters is not included in any of the stats below.
Additionally it must be noted that the BWF database is missing several tournaments (most importantly All England 2002, China Open 2006 and Thomas/Uber/Sudirman Cup before 2007). Some of these I have added to my database and some of which I haven’t yet been able to. Due to these differences you are likely to find small differences here and there if you compare with the numbers provided on BWF’s websites.
Well, where do you start, when looking at a player like Lin Dan? Let’s start by looking at one of the most basic statistic – career winning percentage:
Lin Dan is, perhaps slightly surprisingly, second on this list, but it is worth noting, that around half of Lin Dan’s 134 career losses came in the last 5 years of his career. If you remove that period, his overall winning percentage rockets up to 88% – significantly better than anyone else. Of course it is not fair to cherry pick a certain period of Lin Dan’s career and compare with everybody else’s full careers, so to make an even comparison, let’s take the 5 best years of each player and compare that:
Two players have the best results, head and shoulders above anyone else here (yes, you know who), with 91 and 93 percent, which is absolutely astounding. To put it in perspective, if you played only 5-round tournaments (as is the general standard today) you would have to reach the final of every single tournament and win 13 out of 20 finals you reach to maintain that winning percentage.
To break it down even further, let’s look at the best single seasons:
As you can see, Lin Dan has 3 of the 4 best, and 7 of the 20 best seasons in the last 30 years measured by overall winning percentage, so when he was at his best he was almost unbeatable. This is further shown, if we look at the longest winning streaks:
No less than 6 of the 10 longest winning streaks in the last 30 years belong Lin Dan (it is however worth noting that Lin Dan had quite a number of withdrawals in his career, and the winning streaks above which are marked with a * has some sort of registered walkover loss within the period. I have included them here, since I am mostly interested in on-court results, but they would normally not be counted as “official” winning streaks).
Now, let’s move on to the opponents Lin Dan faced. Here is the list of players he faced most often:
As you can see, has an incredible record against almost everybody. In fact over his 20-year career, only a total of 13 players have a positive score against him:
You will probably notice that most of the above players are recent players, who earned their score against Lin Dan in the last few years of his career (not to take anything away from that, after all Lin Dan was winning top-level tournaments right up until 2019, so it wasn’t as if he was a total pushover), so if we only look at matches from before 2016 we get this very select list:
Of course, most of these are from very early on in Lin Dan’s career (apart from Ng Ka Long Angus, who beat him once in 2015). Peter Rasmussen holds the distinction of being the very first person to beat Lin Dan in a major tournament (1999 China Open), Chen Wei was the second (in the 2001 China Asia Satellite) and Gopichand faced him 3 times before 2003.
The only person who could legitimately claim to have a positive score against Lin Dan in something near his prime is Chen Hong, whose 9 meetings with Lin Dan took place from 2002-2006.
From 2006 to the end of 2014 – nearly a decade – not a single player had a positive H2H score against Lin Dan, which says something about how dominant he was during that period.
As I was working on this, it quickly became apparent that covering everything in one post would be nearly impossible (unless you like Lord of the Rings-length posts), so I will end it here for now, but stay tuned for the next installment.