PETALING JAYA: It’s make-or-break time for Lee Zii Jia.
The independent World No. 2 shuttler, who was runner-up at the Denmark Open but crashed out in the first round of the French Open recently, is under pressure to qualify for the World Tour Finals in Guangzhou.
After skipping the Hylo Open in Germany the following week, Zii Jia has dropped to ninth in the qualifying list. The top eight players and pairs from the five events will qualify for Guangzhou from Dec 14-18.
The only way for him to squeeze in as the eighth qualifier for the Finals is to smash out eighth-ranked Lu Guangzu of China at the Australian Open beginning next Tuesday in Sydney. The Australian Open is the final qualifying event for the Finals.
But beating Guangzu is not the only way for Zii Jia to win the ticket to Guangzhou. He must at least enter the semi-finals in Sydney to rack up enough points to unseat Guangzu.
Based on their past meetings, Zii Jia holds the advantage over the world No. 19 Chinese whom he beat in the 2019 World Championships and 2020 All-England.
Both are likely to meet in the second round in Sydney.
Zii Jia has received a first-round bye while Guangzu will open his campaign against Indonesian Tommy Sugiarto.
If he maintains his unbeaten streak against Guangzu, Zii Jia has a good opportunity to make the semi-finals as his toughest possible opponent in the last eight, India’s Lakshya Sen, has withdrawn from the tournament.
The other Malaysians in the fray are veteran Liew Daren, Ng Tze Yong, Cheam June Wei and Soong Joo Ven.
Daren and Tze Yong both have tough opening round matches against China’s World Championships bronze medallist Zhao Junpeng and silver medallist Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand respectively.
June Wei and Joo Ven will start the tournament from the qualifying rounds.