PETALING JAYA: National badminton icon Lee Chong Wei wants to see his successor Lee Zii Jia pick up where he left off as Malaysia’s first singles in the Thomas Cup Finals.
The 23-year-old Zii Jia is set to lead Malaysia’s challenge in the Aarhus Finals from Oct 9-17, marking the first time in 15 years that the team will play without the influential Chong Wei.
Since the 2006 edition in Japan, Chong Wei’s presence has guaranteed the team a winning start in nearly every match, delivering 24 out of a possible 27 points from his first singles duty.
Chong Wei was also unbeaten for 14 matches from the New Delhi edition in 2014 right until his last appearance at the Bangkok Finals where he led Malaysia to the quarter-finals.
And the three-time Olympics silver medallist is hoping Zii Jia can do the same for the team despite this being his first time assuming the leading role.
“Zii Jia has a massive task at hand. But this is the responsibility he needs to shoulder because he’s the nation’s number one men’s singles shuttler,” said Chong Wei, who’s an eight-time Thomas Cupper.
“Being the first to go into battle, he’s the leader of the team and his duty is to get the first point at all costs.
“It’s going to be tough for sure as I have experienced it myself in 2006.
“It can be overwhelming as playing in the first singles means you’re going up against the number one player of other countries. At that time I played Peter Gade (of Denmark) and Lee Hyun-il (South Korea).”
Malaysia are set to field a youthful side with Olympics bronze medallists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik leading the men’s doubles charge, but Chong Wei insisted that being the underdogs doesn’t mean they can’t be ambitious.
“I hope everyone in the team, especially Zii Jia and Aaron-Wooi Yik won’t take the Thomas Cup lightly. They must give all they’ve got and lead by example,” he said.
“If they are able to put Malaysia 2-0 ahead, then anything is possible because you’ll be putting your opponents under pressure.
“In team events, you are not just playing for yourself. The whole team will be counting on you.
“When I was playing first singles, I was always extra focused because I knew I could not let the team down.”
In Aarhus, Denmark, Malaysia are in Group D with Japan, England and Canada.
A rematch of the All-England quarter-finals between Zii Jia and world No. 1 Kento Momota is on the cards, with Toby Penty of England and Brian Yang of Canada being Zii Jia’s likely two opponents in the group stage.
If Malaysia advance, Zii Jia could be pitted against the likes of Tokyo Olympics podium finishers – Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, Chen Long of China, Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting of Indonesia or Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen – depending on the knockout draw.