KUALA LUMPUR: As one Lee rides into the sunset, another hopes to rise and shine.
Shuttler Lee Zii Jia has vowed to keep Malaysia’s flag flying high in the men’s singles challenge on the international stage and hopefully continue the legacy left by his predecessor Lee Chong Wei.
The 36-year-old Chong Wei, who’s one of the finest Malaysian athletes of all time, has called it a day after an impressive 19-year career due to health reasons on Thursday.
For years, no player has emerged as a worthy successor to the three-time Olympic silver medallist and Zii Jia, just 21, is seen as the nation’s best hope at the moment – at least until next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
After Zii Jia, currently the top-ranked Malaysian in the world at No. 20, come independent players Liew Daren and Chong Wei Feng at No. 25 and 54 respectively but both are in the twilight of their careers.
The other men’s singles players in the national team are Soong Joo Ven (No. 64), Cheam June Wei (83), Lim Chi Wing (159), Tan Jia Wei (169), Leong Jun Hao (318), Muhd Ziyad Tah (344) and rookies Ng Tze Yong, Aidil Sholeh Ali Sadikin and Lim Chong King.
Zii Jia knows the onus is now on him to deliver the goods.
“I’m always ready,” said Zii Jia.
“Since last year, I know the day will come eventually. Emulating the success of Chong Wei is a huge challenge.
“I’m going to take it one step at a time. I’m still a work-in-progress and I strive to keep improving each day.
“But I do have faith in myself. If I can perform to the best of my ability, I know the results will come.
“Now, the most important thing is to play well and secure consistent results.”
It’s obvious Chong Wei has high hopes on Zii Jia to make it big.
In his open letter to fans on Facebook, Chong Wei wishes to see Zii Jia join the likes of Kento Momota, Shi Yuqi and Victor Axelsen as part of a new generation of great rivalry – just like how he used to go up against Lin Dan, Peter-Gade Christensen, Taufik Hidayat and Lee Hyun-il.
While Zii Jia is flattered, he said: “I’m not thinking too far ahead yet. But that’s definitely the level I hope to achieve in another year or two.”
Zii Jia has been showing progress that can be compared to Chong Wei in his younger days.
In fact, Zii Jia had earned his breakthrough victory earlier than Chong Wei did.
Zii Jia was 20 when he claimed the Taiwan Open in October last year while Chong Wei secured his maiden win at the Malaysian Open at 22.