James: Malaysia’s chances of beating Denmark hinge on Zii Jia winning the first singles


PETALING JAYA: Men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia holds the key for Malaysia against Denmark in the Thomas Cup Finals in Chengdu from April 27-May 5.

Malaysia are set to face the Danes early in the tournament after the two teams were placed in the same group.

Former great Datuk James Selvaraj believed that the country’s chances of winning will depend on world No. 10 Zii Jia.

Zii Jia will most likely take on world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in the first singles.

“It’s not going to be easy for our team against Denmark and it depends on Zii Jia,” said James.

“If Zii Jia beats Axelsen, then we have hope of winning. Our chances will be better.

“Our other players will play with more confidence.”

Denmark, who also boast world No. 4 Anders Antonsen and doubles pair Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen in their ranks, will be tough to beat but James believes team spirit can turn the tie in Malaysia’s favour.

“Denmark have a balanced team with good singles players and a strong doubles pair too,” said James.

“It will be 50-50 against them. In the doubles Aaron (Chia) and (Soh) Wooi Yik need to win as well.

“(Goh) Sze Fei and (Nur) Izzuddin also need to continue the good form they showed recently.

“Team unity is very important for Malaysia. The players need to fight for each other. Every time our team is united, we tend to do well in the Thomas Cup,” added James.

The 73-year-old knows a thing or two about unity and fighting spirit as he was part of a young team who stunned favourites Denmark 5-4 to reach the final in the 1976 edition.

“We were a team of youngsters at that time and we managed to beat a Denmark team who had three world champions,” said James.

“Although we lost 0-9 to Indonesia in the final, it was still a memorable tournament for us. No one expected us to even get past the first round against Singapore.

“I want to see the same togetherness and fighting spirit in this current team.

“I’m confident that our players will do well if they have the right mentality and use the correct strategy on court,” added James.

MALAYSIA VS DENMARK

POSSIBLE MATCH-UPS

FIRST SINGLES

Lee Zii Jia (10) vs Viktor Axelsen (1)

This will be an important opening match. Axelsen holds the advantage based on ranking and head-to-head records as he has beaten Zii Jia five times in their past eight meetings. The Dane’s form, though, has been shaky this year and he failed to defend his European Championship gold last week. In the 2022 Indonesian Open, Axelsen narrowly triumphed in three games in a thrilling semi-final match. Zii Jia last defeated the reigning Olympic champion in a full match in the final of the 2021 All-England. The 25-year-old has struggled to reproduce that form consistently since then but has the ability to rise to the occasion. This could be a close affair and the outcome might well decide which team win the overall tie.

FIRST DOUBLES

Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik (5) vs Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (4)

Aaron-Wooi Yik will start as favourites in the match despite being ranked one rung lower than the veteran Danish pair as they have beaten the latter six times in their past nine meetings. In their last encounter, the 2022 world champions stopped Astrup-Rasmussen, who were flying high at the time, in their tracks with a victory in the latter’s home Open en route to capturing their first ever World Tour title. Aaron-Wooi Yik are also in better form of late than the Danes, who have not managed to continue their good performances shown towards the second half of last year.

SECOND SINGLES

Leong Jun Hao (37) vs Anders Antonsen (4)

Antonsen holds a clear advantage in this match as he is going great guns this year. The 26-year-old captured the Malaysian Open and Indonesian Masters in January, and won the European Championships gold last week. Jun Hao, in contrast, has struggled in World Tour events with his best result coming in the Spain Masters last month where he reached the quarter-finals. The 24-year-old has also been asked to step up to second singles after world No. 18 Ng Tze Yong had to be dropped due to injury. One positive thing going for Jun Hao is that he is known as a team event specialist and has to draw on all his experience if he hopes to cause a huge upset. This will be the first meeting between both players in an international competition.

SECOND DOUBLES

Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani (15) vs Rasmus Kjaer-Frederik Sogaard (18)

Sze Fei-Izzuddin’s timely return to form may tip this match in their favour. The pair finished runners-up in the Asian Championships last week and are high on confidence. Kjaer-Sogaard, though, will be no pushovers after stunning China’s world No. 1 Liang Weikeng-Wang Chang twice last year. They also gave Aaron-Wooi Yik a scare before going down in three games in the first round of the Malaysian Open in January. The two pairs have never played each other before. The outcome of the match could depend on which pair handles the pressure better on the day.

THIRD SINGLES

Cheam June Wei (63) vs Rasmus Gemke (26)

The two players have only met once in the 2014 German Junior Open where June Wei won in straight games. Much has changed since then and if the tie comes down to this match, Denmark will be the favourites. Gemke is more experienced and has been playing regularly in Super 750 and 1000 level events while June Wei’s progress has been hampered by injuries and lack of self- confidence. The 27-year-old, though, will be boosted by his inclusion in the team after being overlooked in the last edition in 2022 and will be out to impress. Malaysia could also choose to field youngster Justin Hoh in this match.

PAST ENCOUNTERS AGAINST DENMARK

(Won 11, Lost 6)

1948-1949 : WON 8-1 (FINAL)

1954-1955 : WON 6-3 (FINAL)

1963-1964 : LOST 2-7 (FIRST ROUND)

1966-1967 : WON 7-2 (FIRST ROUND)

1969-1970 : WON 5-4 (SECOND ROUND)

1975-1976 : WON 5-4 (SECOND ROUND)

1986 : WON 3-2 (THIRD PLACE PLAYOFF)

1992 : WON 5-0 (GROUP)

1994 : WON 4-1 (GROUP)

1996 : LOST 2-3 (GROUP)

1998 : WON 3-2 (SEMI-FINAL)

2000 : LOST 2-3 (GROUP)

2006 : LOST 2-3 (SEMI-FINAL)

2010 : WON 3-2 (QUARTER-FINAL)

2012 : LOST 2-3 (GROUP)

2016 : LOST 2-3 (SEMI-FINAL)

2018 : LOST 2-3 (GROUP)

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