PETALING JAYA: Soak in the atmosphere and rise to the occasion.
This is the clarion call made by captain Lee Zii Jia as he aims to steer Malaysia, comprising mostly first-timers, to a winning start in the Group D opener against England at the Energia Areena in Vantaa, Finland, today.
At 23, Zii Jia is the most experienced player alongside Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the 18-member squad.
He was a non-playing member in his debut at the 2017 edition in Gold Coast but in Nanning, China, two years ago, Zii Jia had to step in as the first singles to fill the big void left by the talismanic Lee Chong Wei.
Zii Jia did well to help Malaysia reach the quarter-finals by delivering one of the three points in the team’s 3-2 victory over India.
Then the world No. 20, Zii Jia upstaged No. 13 Sameer Verma with a convincing 21-13, 21-15 win to make up for Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai Jemie’s defeat in the opening mixed doubles tie.
Malaysia finished second behind China in the group stage but bowed out 3-0 in the last eight.
Zii Jia believes that those moments had shaped him as a player and hopes that it will bring the same benefit to all the debutants.
“The most important thing is to learn to deal with the pressure on their own,” said Zii Jia.
“I went through the same path at the Sudirman Cup two years ago, where I played as the leading men’s singles for the first time. I felt the pressure too but I turned it into something that I could manage. It’ll be a good experience.”
Meanwhile, national coaching director Wong Choong Hann is counting on the women’s and mixed doubles departments to deliver a good show against England.
World No. 19 Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah and No. 27 Hoo Pang Ron-Cheah Yee See are expected to be fielded against their higher ranked opponents – No. 14 Chloe Birch-Lauren Smith and No. 7 Marcus Ellis-Smith.
“I believe we have the edge in the men’s singles and men’s doubles, but I hope the other doubles players will deliver the points,” said Choong Hann.
“It’s a tie that we can’t afford to lose, we’ll be going with our strongest line-up for sure.
“We don’t want to underestimate England’s men’s doubles in the absence of Chris Langridge. They’ve been building another pair in Sean Vendy-Ben Lane and we have to be wary of their threat.”