MEN’S singles coach Hendrawan has called for patience from the Malaysian badminton fans, insisting that Lee Zii Jia remains a work in progress.
The 21-year-old enjoyed a fine start to the new season by reaching the semi-finals of the Perodua Malaysian Masters but was outclassed by world No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan on Saturday.
En route to the semi-finals, world No. 14 Zii Jia did well to down two top-10 players – Anders Antonsen of Denmark (No. 4) and Shi Yuqi of China (No. 8).
There are high expectations on the 2019 SEA Games champion to follow the path of his predecessor Lee Chong Wei, who was unbeatable at home for almost a decade.
But Hendrawan was quick to remind everyone to keep their expectations in check.
“Let us be patient with Zii Jia. He has done well but it will not be rosy all the time. He has work ahead of him, ” said Hendrawan.
“I know everyone has high hopes on Zii Jia. In fact, some of the BAM (Badminton Association of Malaysia) officials want him to set a medal target for the Tokyo Olympics (in July).
“Honestly, the main goal for Zii Jia should be the 2024 Paris Olympics and we’re preparing him for that.
Although Zii Jia is not considered Malaysia’s medal hope at the Olympics, Hendrawan vowed to do everything he can in the remaining six months to get the latter to be in peak form.
“I can only promise to prepare Zii Jia the best I can although anything can happen at the Olympics, ” said Hendrawan, who himself was the 2000 Sydney Olympics bronze medallist.
But Hendrawan noted one good progress in Zii Jia and that is his ability to handle the pressure better.
“Zii Jia has matured a lot not only in his game, but psychologically as well. I thought he handled the pressure at last month’s SEA Games very well.
“(Anthony) Ginting and (Jonatan) Christie’s withdrawal left Zii Jia in a position where he knew he had a very good chance to claim the gold. He was under tremendous pressure but delivered the gold. To me, that’s a breakthrough.
“We saw that in him again this week. The previous Zii Jia would have given up in the second game after losing the first. But this time, he kept fighting.
“He can get even better in the next six months and we the coaches will work hard to get him into his best possible shape.”
Zii Jia’s performance has certainly gone up a notch in the last one year and this is evident with his continuous upset wins against higher-ranked players on a regular basis.
Last year, he had defeated China’s Chen Long, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen.
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