Long and winding road


Headed for last-16: Lee Zii Jia may face a tricky encounter with Chen Long (left).

PETALING JAYA: Men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia sees his potential clash with rival Chen Long of China as a tricky one in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

World No. 8 Zii Jia has been drawn in Group M with Brice Leverdez of France and Arten Pochtarov while defending Olympics champion Chen Long is in Group N with Pablo Abian of Spain and Raul Must of Estonia.

The group N and M winners will take on each other in the top-16 knockout stage.

All-England champion Zii Jia said that it would be hard to predict the 32-year-old Chen Long’s form as there were no video recordings of his performances over the last 16 months.

In fact, Chen Long’s last match was at the 2020 All-England in March when Zii Jia upstaged the Chinese maestro in the quarter-finals.

All players from China have been starved of tournaments since their government banned them from traveling abroad to compete due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Chen Long and Shi Yuqi have not competed for more than a year and so, there are no video recordings of their recent performances. That makes it harder for us to do video analyses,” said Zii Jia.

“It will not benefit us if we analyse their performances in videos before that. For now, we don’t have an idea of their game. This has made it a bit tricky.”

China, however, have access to all their opponents’ recent performances as most of them, including strong teams like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Denmark, have competed in several tournaments this year.

Before that possible clash against Chen Long, the 23-year-old Zii Jia must clear the group stage and on paper, the toughest opponent is world No. 36 Leverdez but Zii Jia should not face any problem in beating the 35-year-old player based on his current form.

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But rather than worrying about his opponents, Zii Jia said he would work towards being a complete player in his first Olympics.

“I will respect all my opponents in the group but I will not be worried over the draw. A top player will have to face anyone anyway, so it does not matter whether it’s a tough or an easy path,” said Zii Jia, who trains under coaches Hendrawan and Datuk Tey Seu Bock.

“I’m getting the best training from both coaches, they are guiding me to be a more mature and complete player.”

On the strict standard operating procedures one has to go through in training and in Tokyo, Zii Jia said: “It will be the same for every player from every country. Fortunately, we are used to it after going through several tournaments this year.

“We have adapted to the atmosphere in a tournament where the stadiums are usually empty without fans. It’s not a problem.”

There is an expectation on Zii Jia to keep a good tradition going in the men’s singles as his predecessor Lee Chong Wei has won silver medals in the last three editions – 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro.

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