KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia’s new badminton star Lee Zii Jia has distanced himself from being labelled as a successor to legend shuttler Lee Chong Wei following his triumphant All England Open victory last Sunday.
Speaking to journalists in a group interview via Zoom on Thursday (Mar 25), the 22-year-old stressed that he hoped to chart his own journey in his badminton career, and played down comparisons to his countrymen Lee Chong Wei.
“I just want to be myself, and not compare with Lee Chong Wei because his achievements are unbreakable, his record is unbreakable, he is a legend. So I have my own journey, I have my own story to tell. I have to focus on it,” he said.
Lee Zii Jia’s superb victory, in a tournament in which he was seeded sixth, sparked plaudits across Malaysia from politicians, athletes and netizens.
In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called him a “national hero” and encouraged him to use the win to propel him further for future success.
In the Sunday match, Lee Zii Jia clinched the title after beating defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 in an epic final in Birmingham.
En route to the title, Lee Zii Jia also beat Japan’s two-time world champion Kento Momota at the quarter-finals in a pulsating, marathon encounter.
It was Lee Zii Jia’s first title in three years, his last one being the 2018 Chinese Taipei Open. He is now ranked eighth in the world.
EMULATING LEE CHONG WEI AN “IMPOSSIBLE MISSION”
However, Lee Zii Jia believed that his achievements still pale in comparison to Lee Chong Wei, who has won four All England titles and three Olympic silver medals in his illustrious career.
Lee Chong Wei, who retired from professional badminton in 2019, reportedly said that Lee Zii Jia’s performance in the All England Open could be a sign of bigger things to come for Malaysia in the upcoming Summer Tokyo Olympics.
“If Zii Jia can play like this at the Olympics, then he is surely a contender for a medal,” Lee Chong Wei was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.
When a reporter cited Lee Chong Wei’s comments during the Thursday interview, the young shuttler seemed slightly embarrassed.
“I want to thank Datuk (Lee Chong Wei) for this comment. For (him to make a) comment like this, I don’t really know what to say to that,” he said.
“But for me, no one will be able to replace him, whatever he has achieved in his career, it is an impossible mission for all of the other players,” he added.
When asked what he has learnt from Lee Chong Wei as a young player, Lee Zii Jia cited the former’s relentless attitude on the court, and how he would never give up even when the odds were stacked against him in Olympic gold medal duels and world championships.
“It’s that fight, he will always go for that title. Even when he was already legendary status to us, he was still fighting,” said Lee Zii Jia.
MAINTAIN CONSISTENT PERFORMANCES
During the interview, Lee Zii Jia was also asked to reflect on what has been a difficult journey for him.
The Alor Setar-born shuttler was given a show cause letter by the Badminton Association of Malaysia after a disappointing performance in the Toyota Thailand Open in January when he lost at the first round. He also lost all three of his group games at the BWF World Tour Finals.
Looking back on this after his victory on Sunday, Lee Zii Jia said: “Everyone has their times of struggle. When we have hard times, I find that it’s important to calm down, see what’s the problem and find a way to solve it.”
“I feel very blessed and happy I can get through all these problems until today. Of course, in the future, there are upcoming challenges waiting for me. I told myself that I’m ready for any challenge,” he said.
Moving forward, the shuttler is determined to maintain consistent performances at the Malaysia Open in May and subsequently the Olympics in Tokyo to cement his place as among the top badminton players in the world.
However, he is determined not to get ahead of himself following last Sunday’s victory.
“For the Olympics, I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, and I just want to do things step by step … I just want to enjoy the game and try my best in every match,” said Lee Zii Jia.
He also remained determined not to let his recent shot to national stardom interfere with his development.
“I don’t want all this to disrupt my training, I really don’t want this. I have seen many players when they start to be famous, they go here and there to the point they don’t have time to focus on training,” said Lee Zii Jia.
“I am just at the start of my journey and I want to focus to ensure it doesn’t affect my performance,” he added.
By : Amir Yusof – CNA