PETALING JAYA: A new star is born.
World No. 10 Lee Zii Jia made a smashing breakthrough on the international stage by lifting the All-England title in stunning fashion at the Arena Birmingham yesterday.
The 22-year-old put up arguably the best performance of his life to upset second seed and defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 30-29,20-22,21-9 in an epic 74-minute battle that only befits the prestige of the world’s oldest tournament.
Zii Jia pocketed a well-deserved US$59,500 (RM244,400) for only his second World Tour title since his Taiwan Open triumph back in 2018. And he is projected to climb to a career-best No. 8 when the world ranking is updated tomorrow.
Zii Jia became only the sixth Malaysian to have achieved the feat, continuing the legacy passed on by Wong Peng Soon (1950,1951,1952,1955), Eddy Choong (1953,1954,1956,1957), Tan Aik Huang (1966), Hafiz Hashim (2003) and Lee Chong Wei (2010,2011,2014,2017).
No one saw it coming, probably not even Zii Jia himself, having come through a very rough patch of late.
Zii Jia entered the new year with plenty of hopes, only to flop miserably in the Asian leg of the World Tour in Bangkok.
It was also then that he suffered one of the most humiliating defeats of his career when he was crushed 15-21,4-21 by the same in-form Axelsen in the World Tour Finals in January.
And yesterday, what a sweet revenge Zii Jia pulled off against the 2017 world champion.
The opening game was a ding-dong battle as it took Zii Jia nine game points to seal the opening game. He played with full confidence and was not even rattled when the Dane upped the tempo but it was the Malaysian who trooped out the winner.
But a spirited Axelsen showed just why he can’t be written off when he stepped up the tempo.
Although Zii Jia appeared on the verge of victory when he raced to an 18-14 lead, Axelsen digged deep to turn the game around in his favour and forced a rubber.
But that was as far as the Dane went as a pumped up Zii Jia stormed to a 10-5 lead and went all the way to end Malaysia’s four-year title wait in the All-England.
A thrilled Zii Jia said: “I’m happy, excited, sad... everything has come into one moment so it’s hard to describe the feeling right now. Of course I’m happy about it.
“I think both of us played very well until the third game, when Axelsen lost a bit of focus and that’s the moment I had the advantage.
“In the first game at 30-29 it was already very tough, and coming into the second game I had to focus on every single point.“I couldn’t afford to lose focus on the points, otherwise my opponent would have taken advantage of it.
“This is what I told myself: ‘focus on every point’.”
Axelsen was full of praises for Zii Jia.
“It was a crazy match, really close. The first game was pretty crucial I think, I used a lot of energy and should probably have won if I wanted to take the title today, ” said Axelsen.
“ I think Lee Zii Jia played well in the crucial points today, and I was a little too sloppy at times.
“Unfortunately I’ve spent quite a bit of energy this week playing long matches, and it took its toll a little bit. I think Lee was the rightful winner today so I want to congratulate him.”
Men’s singles: Lee Zii Jia (Mas) bt Viktor Axelsen (Den) 30-29,20-22,21-9.
Women’s singles: Nozomi Okuhara (Jpn) bt Pornpawee Chochuwong (Tha) 21-12,21-16.
Men’s doubles: Hiroyuki Endo-Yuta Watanabe (Jpn) bt Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda (Jpn) 21-15,17-21,21-11.
Women’s doubles: Mayu Matsumoto-Wakana Nagahara (Jpn) bt Yuki Fukushima-Sayaka Hirota (Jpn) 21-18,21-16.
Mixed doubles: Yuta Watanabe-Arisa Higashino (Jpn) bt Yuki Kaneko-Misaki Matsutomo (Jpn) 21-14,21-13.
Men’s singles: Lee Zii Jia (Mas) bt Mark Caljouw (Ned) 21-13,21-17; Viktor Axelsen (Den) bt Anders Antonsen (Den) 16-21,21-7,21-17.
Men’s doubles: Hiroyuki Endo-Yuta Watanabe (Jpn) bt Jeppe Bay-Lasse Molhede (Den) 21-13,21-11; Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda (Jpn) bt Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (Den) 21-18,21-14.
Women’s singles: Pornpawee Chochuwong (Tha) bt P. V. Sindhu (Ind) 21-17,21-9; Nozomi Okuhara (Jpn) bt Ratchanok Intanon (Tha) 16-21,21-16,21-19.
Women’s doubles: Yuki Fukushima-Sayaka Hirota (Jpn) bt Selena Piek-Cheryl Seinen (Ned) 21-17,21-7; Mayu Matsumoto-Wakana Nagahara (Jpn) bt Nami Matsuyama-Chiharu Shida (Jpn) 21-19,21-17.
Mixed doubles: Yuki Kaneko-Misaki Matsutomo (Jpn) bt Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (Mas) 21-14,22-20; Yuta Watanabe-Arisa Higashino (Jpn) bt Marcus Ellis-Lauren Smith (Eng) 21-10,21-18.