Lee Zii Jia became the first Malaysian to win badminton's prestigious All England Open title in four years.
The 22-year-old enjoyed a stunning run of form which saw him notch up his first career win over top seed Momota Kento in the quarter-finals, and then outlast defending champion Viktor Axelsen in the final to clinch his maiden Super 1000 World Tour title.
Lee is now the sixth Malaysian men’s singles player to claim the accolade, the last being three-time Olympic silver medallist, Lee Chong Wei.
The retired player was following Zii Jia’s progress in the tournament closely and shared with local newspaper New Straits Times that perhaps the youngster could shine on his Olympic debut in Tokyo.
“If Zii Jia can play like this at the Olympics, then he is surely a contender for a medal.” – Lee Chong Wei to New Straits Times
In an exclusive interview with Olympic Channel ahead of the tournament, Zii Jia shared how he wished he could emulate Chong Wei’s “never give up” spirit.
Zii Jia shared, “he is very strong in his body language on court. So that's the thing I want to be on court as well. So far I think I'm not doing that part very well. So I hope I can do it one day.”
Zii Jia was certainly oozing confidence on court throughout the All England tournament.
His path to the finals saw him dispatch all of his opponents in straight sets.
The first game of the final saw him and Axelsen slog it out to the maximum 30 points. And despite losing the second game, Zii Jia was the fitter and more focused player in the decider and he found that “never give up” spirit within him to clinch the title.
"When it comes to major events, it's all about form and nerves. Who handles it better, will win,” Chong Wei shared with New Straits Times, adding, “that is why you see a lot of upsets in big tournaments like the Olympics and World Championships.”
If anyone knows what it takes to reach a final in major tournaments, it would be Chong Wei. The 38-year-old also has three silver World Championships medals, played in the Thomas Cup finals and has over two dozen other medals from various international meets.
Named as Malaysia's Chef de Mission for the upcoming Games in Tokyo, Chong Wei posted a message of congratulations on social media after witnessing Zii Jia’s sensational performance in the final.
“Awesome performance, looks like you have found your pace. Keep up the good work” Chong Wei posted and cheekily admitting via the hashtag that he was much more nervous watching the match than he ever was when playing on court.
Going into the tournament, few were expecting the sixth seed to defeat two world champions, Momota and Axelsen, en route to victory.
Chong Wei now hopes that the Zii Jia can build on his success in Birmingham as he prepares for his Olympic debut, but cautions the player to remain grounded amid his new fame.
"Firstly, I am happy that Zii Jia has regained his confidence. This All England has served Zii Jia well, I hope he learns from it and uses it as a stepping stone for the Olympics this year." - Lee Chong Wei to New Straits Times