Guangzhou: Defending world and Olympic champion Lin Dan is through to the final of the badminton world championships in Guangzhou, China after a shaky start against a fired-up underdog. (Also read: PV Sindhu settles for bronze)
The 29-year-old Chinese superstar, widely regarded as badminton's best ever player, took on Vietnam's Nguyen Tien Minh, seeded seventh.
Dancing light-footed around the court, the agile Vietnamese player, 30, won applause from the partisan crowd with a cheeky over-the-shoulder return as Lin took his time to find his feet in the first game.
Lin, who is returning to badminton after almost a year on the sidelines to spend time with his family, slipped behind after misjudging Nguyen's early returns.
Nguyen had the tournament of his life and by reaching the semi-finals has already become the first Vietnamese player ever to get a medal at the world championships.
But Lin began to take control as the first game went on, injecting pace and attacking play with jump smashes and unreachable shots down the line, taking it 21-17.
The second game saw the tenacious Vietnamese player, who has never beaten Lin, refuse to give up, giving his all in punchy rallies and forcing Lin to dive around the court.
Though his game was error-prone, Lin outpowered and outmanoeuvered Nguyen to take the second 21-15.
"I haven't really played any world level matches over the past year and it's unbelievable that I've got into the finals. I'm really happy," Lin said after the match.
In philosophical mood, he said he had stopped caring so much about winning and that family life had helped him curb his on-court temper.
"I don't care to much about the result, I just want to do my best," he said. "My better temper is to do with my family because after getting married I have to take responsibility."
He praised Nguyen as a hard-working player who he admires -- the Vietnamese veteran often trains and travels on his own, without the extensive support network of the bigger badminton nations.
"I felt today everything was OK, but I was a little bit tired because yesterday I played (Danish Jan O) Jorgensen -- if I had more energy today I think I could have got more points," Nguyen said.
"I don't think (Lin) played well. He made so many mistakes, but he is experienced and in the end he knows how to get the points."
Lin, who entered the tournament on a wildcard after his timeout from the game, is on course to face world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in what fans hope will be another classic final.
The Chinese star beat Lee at the previous world championships and in the last two Olympic finals.
Lee is up against China's Du Pengyu in his semi-final later Saturday.