Lee’s wow factor

PETALING JAYA: National badminton legend Lee Chong Wei (pic) is one of the happiest men in the country after witnessing Lee Zii Jia’s spectacular All-England debut last week.

However, the 37-year-old three-time Olympic silver medallist was quick to advise Zii Jia to not let his guard down following his brilliant semi-final run.

“It’s only the beginning. An even trickier journey awaits him from now, ” said Chong Wei, himself a four-time All-England champion.

“Zii Jia has shown the world what he’s capable of and this makes him a target for all his rivals from now on. His game will now come under tremendous scrutiny, and he can expect every player he has defeated to gun for him.

“To prepare Zii Jia for that, our team must constantly analyse the game of our opponents, too.”

Chong Wei is confident that Zii Jia will only get better given the significant progress he has made since clinching the SEA Games gold in Manila last December.

Zii Jia followed it up with an impressive display at the Malaysian Masters a month later, gunning down the likes of Denmark’s Anders Antonsen and Shi Yuqi of China en route to the last four.

He was also instrumental in helping Malaysia finish runners-up at the Asia Team Championships in Manila last month, qualifying them for the Thomas Cup Finals on merit in the process.

“Zii Jia has improved by leaps and bounds with all the changes made to his style of play. It is so delightful to watch, ” said Chong Wei.

“I think a lot of credit must be given to coach Hendrawan, who obviously has done a good job.”

Despite the major improvement, Chong Wei believes it is still premature to rate Zii Jia’s chances of winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

“At the Olympics, it’s always anybody’s game. We have seen how dark horses have risen to the occasion in the past, ” said Chong Wei, who is the national contingent’s chef-de-mission to the Tokyo Olympics.

“But as much as I and the entire nation want to see him bring home a medal, let’s not give him unnecessary pressure.

“I think Zii Jia himself will aim for a medal and I have no doubt he will do his very best.”

Another All-England champion Hafiz Hashim has also lavished praise on Zii Jia, saying that it wouldn’t have surprised him if the youngster had gone on to win the title.

“I watched him play throughout the week. After he beat Chen Long (in the quarter-finals), I actually thought the title was for him to lose!” said Hafiz, who defeated China’s Chen Hong to win the 2003 edition.

“He was just a little bit unlucky to lose to Viktor Axelsen.

“He may have fallen just short in the All-England, but getting into the semis in his debut is such an outstanding result. I’m sure he has gained lots of confidence before the Tokyo Olympics.”

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