Over the years, who have been the best badminton players to have graced the sport, spreading entertainment and joy but at the same racking up trophies and medals? Below is an exhaustive list on some of the best badminton players in the world all time.
Lee Chong Wei
Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei can lay a claim to being the best badminton player of all time having spent 349 weeks as the top-ranked player in the world. This included a near-four year streak starting in August 2008 which win a stack of titles.
Interestingly, Lee won three Olympics silver medals and a further three silvers at the World Championships but never won the singles title. Still, with 46 Super Series (and Super Series Premier) titles under his belt, Lee holds the record for the most gold medals in that top tier of badminton competitions.
He ended his career with 57 titles to go with the aforementioned silver medals, plus a silver at Thomas Cup and five bronze medals at the Thomas and Uber Cup.
There are always ifs and buts in life and who knows where Lee Chong Wei would have ended his career had he not stopped playing after getting diagnosed with a nose cancer in 2018. And yet, his 19 years playing badminton have provided fans with almost everything one can expect from a sportsperson.
While Lin Dan’s career title count at the Super Series, Grand Prix, and World Tour competitions stands at 33 at the moment – and can be expected to swell up as a result, where he scores over Lee Chong Wei is at the big events.
This includes gold medals in the men’s singles competitions at the Olympics (in 2008 and 2012 where he beat Lee in the final) and a further five gold medals in the same event at the World Championships.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lin has won the All-England competition a record six times, two further golds at the World Cup, and 11 gold medals in total between the Sudirman Cup and Thomas Cup.
Lin Dan is Lee Chong Wei’s contemporary, and the two have been involved in some sterling contests. Having played 40 matches between them, Lin led Lee 28-12 on head to head before the latter retired.
Another former world number one, Chen Long has waltzed his way into this list and would be one of the best too because of his record across different competitions. Chen Long started playing badminton at just eight and has made a sterling career doing just that.
Having won gold medals at the Asian Games in 2010, there was no looking back for Chen who then won three gold medals at the Thomas Cup, five golds at the Uber Cup, and a couple at the World Championships.
And he then wrote himself into the history books by clinching the gold at the 2016 Olympics at Rio, defeating Lee Chong Wei in the final in two games. With more than 40 titles in badminton tournaments in his career so far, there’s not too many who would question Chen Long’s badminton greatness.
At 1.94 meters (or 6 feet 4 inches), Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen is the tallest badminton player in the world. He is also one of the rare non-Asian player who makes this list of the greatest badminton players of all time.
Axelsen has a fair few years to go in his career yet but he has already won the Thomas Cup gold, and another first prize at the 2017 Glasgow World Championships as well. At the 2016 Olympics, he went down to the eventual gold-medallist Chen Long in the semifinal but clinched the bronze by beating Lin Dan in the third-place playoff match.
Just before sports and badminton went on an absence because of the pandemic situation, Axelsen notched up the All England Open title by beating Chou Tien-chen in the final.
While Axelsen found it difficult to get past Lee Cong Wei in their match-ups, finishing on 3-8 on head to head, he has a good record against Lin Dan having won six of their nine matches so far.
A series of solid showing at the European Championships propelled Spaniard Carolina Marin to fame. When she won women’s singles gold medal at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, it rocketed her to the number one spot on the BWF Rankings in mid-2015.
She went into the 2016 Olympics as the top seed and sure enough, Marin lived up to that billing by beating India’s PV Sindhu in the final to clinch the gold medal.
Not too bad for a former Flamenco dancer who only took to badminton because she saw friends play it.
China’s Wang Yihan makes it to this list of the best table tennis player on account of her string of gold medals in the Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup. However, her best showing at the highest level came at the 2011 London World Championships where she defeated Chinese Taipei’s Cheng Shao-chieh in the final to clinch the gold medal.
Wang had earlier won the gold medal at the 2006 World Cup as well, which is why she went into the 2012 London Olympics as the top seed and favourite to win the gold. She defeated India’s Saina Nehwal in the semifinal but lost to Chinese compatriot Li Xuerui in a very tight final which went to three games, to settle for silver.
It’s interesting to see Li Xuerui did not win as many gold medals at either the Sudirman Cup or Uber Cup and never won the World Cup or World Championships gold either (twice finishing runner-up at the latter). And yet she makes this list on the back of her gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics where she defeated her friend Wang Yihan in the final despite being the third seed in the event.
Li was the third seed at the women’s singles badminton competition of the 2016 Olympics and made it to the semifinal with much ease. There she played Carolina Marin, but suffered an ACL and lateral meniscus injury leading to a defeat and a subsequent walkover in her bronze medal match.
Having won 27 titles, she announced her retirement from the sport, having never fully recovered from her injury.
Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat is an absolute legend of the game, having won singles gold medals at both, the World Championships and Olympics. Having won the Thomas Cup gold in 2000 and 2002, Hidayat made it to his first and only semifinal and made it one better when he was assured of a medal when he won that match.
In the title-decider, Hidayat defeated Shon Seung-mo to clinch the gold.
A year later, Hidayat shocked Lin Dan in the final of the World Championships in Anaheim to pouch another major gold medal. That win meant Hidayat became the first male player to hold the gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships at the same time.
He won a silver at the Paris World Championships in 2010 and a bronze at the World Cup in 2006, and another gold at the 2010 French Open – his only top prize in the BWF Superseries.
Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon is one of the most nimble-footed badminton players in the women’s world leading to commentators calling her balletic. While Intanon has never won an Olympics medal, losing in the quarterfinal and round of 16 at the 2012 and 2016 games respectively, she shot to fame with her medals at the 2010 Asian Games and 2012 Uber Cup.
And then in 2013, Ratchanok went on to defeat Li Xuerui in the final of the 2013 World Championships to win the gold medal, becoming the youngest ever to do so. It was one of Ratchanok’s best year of her career, as she also made it to the All England Open Badminton Championships final.
Later she went on to win a bronze at the 2019 World Championships.
Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying is on her way to becoming one of the best in the badminton world (that’s if she’s not there already). Now, while she hasn’t won a single medal at the World Championships or Olympics – losing in the round of 16 at both, the 2012 and 2016 Olympics – Tai Tzu-Ying still climbed up to the women’s number one spot in 2016.
But that’s not all. She has been the number one for nearly four years now, holding the record for most number of weeks as the top-ranked player in the badminton world. In 2018, Tai also broke another record by winning her 31st match in a row, dislodging Li Xuerui’s record of 30 victories.
China’s Han Aiping was one of the greatest women’s badminton player who tussled with Li Lingwei on multiple occasions throughout their career. Han won the World Championships on three separate occasions and clinched nine gold medals overall in singles and doubles World Championships and World Cup.
She also combined with Li to help China win three gold medals at the Uber Cup, and was a bronze medallist at the 1989 Sudirman Cup.
Han retired from the sport in 1990 and is a part of the Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1998. She lost her life to lung cancer in 2019.
As mentioned earlier, Li Lingwei was a competitor and teammate to Han Aiping. The contemporaries also played women’s doubles together, winning the 1985 World Championships gold in that category.
Other than that, Li also clinched two singles gold in the World Championships, and four singles gold in the World Cup. With 40 international titles under her belt in the 1980s, Li retired from the sport in 1989 and like Han, was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
After her playing days, Li was involved in coaching for a while before turning to administration, after being elected an International Olympic Committee member in 2012. She went on to become the Vice President of the Chinese Olympic Committee four years later.
While Denmark’s Peter Gade never won a World Championship gold, and more strangely never captured a medal at the Olympics despite having participated in four of them between 2000 and 2012.
However, Gade was still the world number one badminton player between 1998 and 2001 thanks to his performances at the Sudirman Cup, Thomas Cup and the World Championships where he won a silver in 2001.
Most of Gade’s excellent showing came at the European Championships where he was a five-time gold-medallist.
Japan’s Kento Momota is one of the most talented players in this list and has the potential to emulate some of the top players in this list, if not surpass them. Having begun his career in 2011 at the junior level, Momota has already won a couple of gold medals at the World Championships, after having clinched a bronze in 2015 in the same tournament.
Momota’s medal-winning run isn’t restricted to the World Championships alone. There was a gold at the Thomas Cup in 2014, and a silver in 2018, and a couple of golds at the Asian Championships as well. That was Japan’s first ever gold in the Thomas Cup.
However, one of the chief reasons why he is tipped to be the next great is his record against some of the top players like Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan. Against Lee, he had won four of the first five matches he played and was 2-2 on head to head against Lee.
Golds at two Olympics events, four World Championships and one World Cup make China’s Gao Ling one of the greatest doubles badminton players of all times. With four Olympics medals, including a silver and bronze and clinching the mixed doubles gold at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Sydney Olympics, Gao has the most medals in Olympics.
Add the eight gold medals Gao won at the Sudirman Cup and Uber Cup and it’s not too difficult to see why she has often been termed as the above.
Tony Gunawan is that rare badminton player who has won gold medals at the World Championships playing for both, Indonesia and USA. A men’s doubles gold medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he went on to capture another gold at the Saville World Championships the following year and then switched over to playing for USA.
In 2005, he clinched another World Championships gold after having made that switch. Gunawan was also a part of the Indonesian Thomas Cup side which won the gold in 2000.
Zhao Yunlei’s success story comes in women’s and mixed doubles and it makes her the first – and only at the time of writing – player to have won two gold medals in the same Olympics. Zhao achieved this feat at the 2012 Olympics in London when she grabbed the pole position at both, the women’s and mixed doubles competitions.
The World Championships has also seen her make her mark. She began her gold-collection at the 2011 edition with one in the mixed doubles and then went on to add two apiece at the 2014 and 2015 championships.
Other than that there have been three Sudirman and Uber Cup gold medals as well, and it comes as no surprise she has been a world number one on both the ladders.
Along with a few of the other players, Zhao Yunlei is often called the greatest badminton doubles player of all times.
Doubles was the forte of Park Joo-Bong who won the gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics men’s double and a silver in the mixed doubles at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. However, his greatest glory came at the World Championships where he won five gold medals and two bronzes across the doubles competitions between 1985 and 1991 which was more than enough to get him inducted into the Badminton Hall of Fame in 2001.
Cai Yun & Fu Haifeng
A gold medal at the men’s doubles competition of the 2006 World Championships kick-started Cai Yun & Fu Haifeng’s career and they followed it up with a silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in it. Three more golds followed at the World Championships, again in men’s doubles, before Cai and Fu achieved ultimate glory of winning the top spot at the 2012 Olympics as well.
The two parted ways in 2014 and Cai retired from the sport in 2016 but that didn’t stop Fu from adding another Olympics gold to his tally which came at the 2016 Rio games.
Indonesia Liliyana Natsir is an Olympics gold medallist from the Rio games in 2016, having won the mixed doubles title and a four-time World Championships winner. With a World Cup victory to boot as well, she is one of the very few to have won the top prize in all three competitions.
Earlier she had shown sparks of her brilliance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where as the top seeds she combined with Nova Widianto to make it to the final where they lost to the South Korea.
Ge Fei’s achievements in doubles competitions, women’s and mixed, would be tough to emulate for most. Having showed her calibre at the Asian Games in 1994, Ge Fei shot to fame with a women’s doubles gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the women’s category having started out as the second seed.
Three more golds at the World Championships and three at the World Cup followed in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics where she bagged another women’s doubles title at the Sydney games.
Amid all these title wins, Ge also clinched top honors at the Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup, five golds and a couple of silver medals in total.
Other Honorable Mentions
Jan Ø. Jørgensen
Another Danish player in this list of top badminton players and like Axelsen, Jan Ø. Jørgensen is also six feet plus. That might have played a part in Jørgensen being a part of the gold-medal winning Danish team at the 2016 Thomas Cup.
Jørgensen, a former world number two, having first got to that spot in January 2015, is also a bronze-medallist at the World Championships and won more than 10 gold medals in men’s and mixed team European Championships.
One of the oldest players in this list of top badminton players, Rudy Hartano featured in the 1967 Thomas Cup where his Indonesia won a silver medal. Later, he led his country to gold medals at the 1970, 1973, 1976 and 1979 Thomas Cup competitions and was a gold-medallist at demo event in the 1972 Olympics. He ended his career with a gold at the 1980 World Championships.
A former world number one, South Korea’s Son Wan-ho played in both, the 2012 and 2016 Olympics but his biggest achievement came at the 2017 Sudirman Cup where he was a part of the team which won the gold medal.
Indonesian badminton player Hendrawan shot to fame with a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and followed it up with a gold at the 2001 World Championships. There were three Thomas Cup golds and a Sudirman Cup silver medal as well to go with that and he later went on to coach the Malaysian national side.
Indonesia’s Hendra Setiawan is one of the best men’s doubles player of all times having achieved the top ranking with two separate partners; Markis Kido and Mohammad Ahsan. A gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics and a four-time gold medallist at the World Championships, Setiawan’s first ever claim to fame was his gold at the 2006 World Cup.
China’s Zhang Nan has a gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, in mixed and men’s doubles category and four other gold medals at the World Championships across the two categories.
Some of the other such top badminton players worth mentioning are Xia Xuanze, Chen Hong, Sony Dwi Kuncoro and Morten Frost Hansen.