Zii Jia, Jun Hao show nerves of steel in wins over Chinese rivals


Giving no quarters: Leong Jun Hao in action against China’s Lei Lanxi during the first round of the Malaysian Masters. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: Men’s singles shuttlers Lee Zii Jia and Leong Jun Hao made smashing starts in the Malaysian Masters when they battled past their respective Chinese opponents to advance into the second round.

Fresh from his Thailand Open success, world No. 10 Zii Jia secured a superb come-from-behind 19-11, 21-11, 21-14 win over 2022 World Championships bronze medallist Zhao Junpeng at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

The 26-year-old has struggled previously to get past the early rounds in both the home Masters and Open and was pleased to come away with the win.

Zii Jia last survived the early rounds in the 2020 edition of the home Masters where he reached the semi-finals.

“My record at home is not good, so I’m really happy to win today (yesterday) after losing the first game,” said Zii Jia.

“The confidence I found in the Thailand Open helped me to overcome the disappointment in the first game.

“Junpeng is a tough opponent and I’ve lost to him before. So I’m glad that I managed to calm myself down and handle the pressure to get this win.”

Zii Jia is hoping to continue his good run when he faces Indian youngster Kiran George next.

“This tournament is a test for me ahead of the Paris Olympics (in July) and it will not be easy against Kiran,” said Zii Jia.

“Young, rising players like him have no pressure and are fearless against the top players.

“He will be out to cause an upset and as a top 10 player, I need to prepare well to face him.

“It was a good campaign for me in Thailand and I’m hoping to bring everything positive from there to here,” added Zii Jia.

Meanwhile, world No. 37 Jun Hao also rose to the occasion in front of the passionate home fans to beat world No. 34 Lei Lanxi 13-21, 23-21, 21-12.

Jun Hao had lost to Lanxi in the Korean Masters last year but fought hard to turn the tables on him this time in an exhausting 81-minute match.

The 24-year-old, who has made it into the first round of the tournament for the first time, faces a tough task next against Lanxi’s teammate and reigning Asian Games gold medallist Li Shifeng.

Jun Hao lost to world No. 6 Shifeng in straight games in the last four of the Thomas Cup Finals in Chengdu earlier this month.

In the men’s doubles, Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik also booked their spot in the second round after ousting South Korean qualifiers Kim Young-hyuk-Wang Chan 21-18, 22-20.

Aaron-Wooi Yik, who are the top seeds, will next play China’s Chen Boyang-Liu Yi.

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