Lee Zii Jia: What I learned from legendary teammate Lee Chong Wei

Malaysian badminton hope shares life in the limelight after legend Chong Wei's retirement, but is looking forward to creating his own story, including the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

By ZK Goh
Picture by Badmintonphoto

Malaysia's big badminton hope Lee Zii Jia would like to stop being compared to legendary former teammate Lee Chong Wei.

The shuttler from Alor Setar, Kedah state, is aiming to be his own man as he forges a name for himself in the sport following Lee Chong Wei's retirement in 2019.

"All the time people are comparing me and Lee Chong Wei, so I just try not to care about it," he tells the Olympic Channel's Sanjeev Palar in an exclusive interview.

"I just want to be myself and concentrate on what needs to be done."

However, that's not to say the 22-year-old Zii Jia – no relation to Chong Wei – hasn't learned from his senior, a three-time Olympic silver medallist.

"He's there (for me) any time," Lee Zii Jia says, adding that the former world number one had offered advice.

"I'm very pleased and very thankful to him."

Zii Jia: "I don't want to become Lee Chong Wei"

Lee Zii Jia has won one BWF World Tour (SuperSeries) event in his young career, and carries the hopes of Malaysian fans who crave continued success in the sport after Lee Chong Wei called it quits for health reasons.

The older Lee, a 349-week world number one, won 69 career titles during his career.

"It's tough," Zii Jia admits. "At first I think I couldn't handle it well because suddenly [after Chong Wei's retirement] there was so much pressure and so much hope on me because everyone was starting to [talk] about me and Datuk (a Malaysian honorific) Lee Chong Wei.

"I'm still young and of course I [have a] lack of experience, I'm not even better than Datuk Lee Chong Wei.

"So when I lose, then people blame me. 'Why I can't be like Lee Chong Wei, you know, always winning. Lee Chong Wei always wins.' From there I start to feel like there's so much pressure on me.

"So what I told myself is 'I don't want to become Lee Chong Wei.' Maybe I also can't be [like] Lee Chong Wei [was] in my [career]."

"I just want to be who I am." - Lee Zii Jia to Olympic Channel

Lee Chong Wei's advice to Lee Zii Jia

Chong Wei, who is set to be Malaysia's chef-de-mission at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 2021, has however given the youngster his backing.

Speaking to Malaysian state news agency Bernama ahead of the 2021 All England Open, the retired legend recalled his own struggles as a player.

"It's not easy; I've been there and done that before… I have experienced losing confidence for few outings before I managed to find my way to overcome the pressure and regained form," Chong Wei said.

For his part, the younger Lee has been able to ask Chong Wei for advice at any point.

"He's a very good senior," Lee Zii Jia says. "[Chong Wei] said to me before, anytime, anywhere, if I have problems I can just give him a call and maybe meet with him. He will help of course.

"[A piece of] advice he gave me in the past is, 'Coaches can maybe only help you 20 per cent in your career, and the 80 per cent left is on your own. Everything is on your own. You can't just rely on coaches (as if) they have to help you all the time. Sometimes when you struggle, you have to deal with it yourself.'

"I think he's trying to tell me maybe I should be more disciplined and harder on myself. That's the advice he gave me."

Learning from Chong Wei

While Lee Zii Jia wants to be his own man, there is one part of his game he intends to mould after Lee Chong Wei.

"I think there's one thing that we all know that Lee Chong Wei has, a spirit – a never give up spirit," Zii Jia says after considering his answer. "He's very strong in his body language on court.

"I think that that's the thing I want to be on court too. So far I think I'm not doing that part very well now so I hope I can do it one day."

Malaysia's badminton coaching director, three-time Olympian Wong Choong Hann, certainly thinks Lee could do so.

"He is a quick learner," Wong told the Olympic Channel in 2019. "He is someone who dares to walk out of his comfort zone, and that is a very, very good quality."