Zii Jia’s credentials at stake as childhood rival looms at China Open

Dangerous opponent: Lee Zii Jia has named 22-year-old Loh Kean Yew of Singapore as one of the top contenders for the Philippines SEA Games gold. — AFP

PETALING JAYA: For national No. 1 men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia, beating his childhood rival Loh Kean Yew of Singapore will be top of his agenda at next week’s Fuzhou China Open.

Zii Jia’s credentials at the Philippines SEA Games from Nov 30-Dec 11 will be put to the test as he faces world No. 31 Kean Yew in the first round of the second-tier World Tour tournament.

If he wins, he will likely face top seed Kento Momota of Japan in the last 16.

Zii Jia has named 22-year-old Kean Yew as one of the top contenders for the SEA Games gold alongside Jonatan Christie of Indonesia and Thailand’s Kantaphon Wongcharoen.

A defeat is not an option for Zii Jia as it will not go down well with his fans.

The fans’ patience is already running thin after the defeat of women’s singles shuttler Soniia Cheah to Yeo Jia Min of Singapore at the French Open last week.

“Momota is standing in my way again in the next tournament but I’m not thinking too far ahead yet because I have Kean Yew to deal with first,” said the world No. 14 Zii Jia.

“Kean Yew has improved by leaps and bounds this year and I’m anticipating a tough match against him.

“I’m looking forward to meeting him again after a long time. We were fierce rivals in the age-group local tournaments when we were 11 and 12. After that, he moved to Singapore.”

The Penang-born Kean Yew was previously a trainee with the Penang Badminton Association (PBA) until he was 12.

His best achievement in the junior scene was winning the 2009 National Junior Grand Prix Finals, beating Zii Jia in the Under-12 final.

In 2010, he was offered a place in the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) but opted to take up a scholarship with the Singapore Schools Sports Council to study and play badminton there. He eventually took up citizenship and represented Singapore.

It wasn’t until in January this year that Kean Yew made the world take notice of his talent when he downed five-time world champion Lin Dan to win the Thailand Masters for his career’s breakthrough win.

He then notched two more runner-up finishes at the Hyderabad Open and Russian Open in July, before impressing at the World Championships where he gave Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen a run for his money before losing in the last 16.

As for Zii Jia, he will be out to avoid a first-round exit in his third tournament in a row, after losing to Chen Long of China and Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting in the Denmark and France Opens respectively.

On his possible clash with Momota, Zii Jia admitted the reigning world champion will still be the man to beat despite having his 28-match unbeaten run snapped by Anthony in Paris last week.

“He probably was exhausted from playing too many matches, but it doesn’t give me any advantage whatsoever if I were to meet him next week,” said Zii Jia.

“He has more than a week to recover after his defeat to Anthony, I’m sure he’s going to come back strongly.”

Zii Jia lost to Momota on three occasions this year with the latest defeat being in the last eight of the Korean Open last month.

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