After taking a “very positive break” before the training camp in Ehime, Japan, Malaysia’s No 1 shuttler Lee ZiiJia will be ready for a fresh start for the next season’s opening – the Perodua Malaysia Masters presented by DAIHATSU.
The USD400,000 HSBC BWF World Tour event will be held at the Axiata Arena, Bukit Jalil from Jan 7-12 and has attracted a strong international field as the Tokyo Olympics qualifying rounds hit the home stretch.
Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong ChoongHann said the time has come for ZiiJia, who ended the year on a high note by winning the men’s singles gold in the recent Sea Games in the Philippines, to stand up and be counted.
The 21-year-old ZiiJia has a tough opener against third seed and World No 4 Anders Antonsen of Denmark. The Dane has beaten the Malaysian in both the previous two meetings this year and both were achieved in Indonesia.
ZiiJia lost 13-21, 13-21 in the Daihatsu Indonesia Masters and 16-21, 11-21 in the Blibli Indonesia Open.
“He faces a very good opponent but I am looking forward to a good start by ZiiJia after winning the gold in the Sea Games. It is a boost to help him prepare how to pace and handle expectations,” said ChoongHann.
“ZiiJia should learn to understand and grow himself to a bigger stage. The time has come for ZiiJia to show his potential what more when he will have the home support in the stands.”
The Malaysian who is currently ranked No 14, returned to his hometown AlorSetar to take a break from badminton and indulge himself in basketball. His parents -dad Lee CheeHin and mum LeowSietPeng – teachers and former basketball internationals.
Zii Jia says the break from badminton has left him “refreshed and energised “for the new badminton season and is termed as Malaysia’s next big name in badminton after former World No 1 Datuk Lee Chong Wei who has now retired due to ill-health.
The Kedahan won the men’s singles gold in Manila in the 30th Philippines Sea Games with a 21-18, 21-18 win over Singapore’s Malaysian-born Loh Kean Yew in the final. He also helped Malaysia win the silver medal in the men’s team event in the biennial games in the Philippines.
Zii Jia, currently ranked No 14, (his highest was No 11), took up the game at the age of six when his father took him to a badminton club in his hometown.
Bitten by the shuttle bug, ZiiJia moved up to better things in the game and won the bronze medal in the 2016 World Junior Championships when he lost to Indonesia’s Chico Aura DwiWardoyo in the semi-finals.
The same year he reached the final in the India International Series but failed to win the title after losing to India’s Lakshya Sen.
A year later he won his first senior international title when he defeated compatriot Soong JooVen 21-17, 21-16 in the Polish International men’s singles final.
In 2018, ZiiJia achieved a “breakthrough” in his badminton career when he won the Chinese Taipei Open (Super 300). After knocking out home favorite Chou Tien Chen in the semi-finals the young Malaysian defeated Japan’s RiichiTakeshita 21-17, 16-21, 21-11 for his first BWF World Tour title.
This year, ZiiJia reached the quarter-finals in the Malaysian Masters, the Indonesia Masters, and German Open and reached the semi-finals in the Thailand Open.
In the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland in August, ZiiJia reached the quarter-finals but was shown the exit by eventual champion Kento Momota of Japan.
When ZiiJia helped Malaysia win the bronze medal in the Badminton Asia Team Championships in AlorSetar in 2018 former world No 1 Datuk Lee Chong Wei hailed him as the next big name in Malaysian badminton.
Zii Jia has taken the scalps of some of the big names in world badminton, including reigning Olympic champion Chen Long of China and former world champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
However, Zii Jia’s inconsistency is a disturbing factor but the Badminton Association of Malaysian (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann is confident that ZiiJia will be able to make a breakthrough in his badminton career once some nagging personal issues are cleared up.
The national team is currently training in Ehime, Japan since last Sunday.