Pressure on for Lee Zii Jia as Malaysia's number one

The world number 10 shuttler has had to fill Lee Chong Wei's shoes carrying the hopes of a nation. It hasn't been easy.

By ZK Goh

It was never going to be easy for Lee Zii Jia to follow in the retired Lee Chong Wei's footsteps as Malaysia's top badminton player.

But maybe the younger Lee (no relation) never expected it to be this hard.

The pressure of carrying the hopes of his country is weighing on the 22-year-old ahead of October's Thomas Cup Finals and next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Team motivator

Chong Wei's retirement means Zii Jia will have to anchor Malaysia's team in the Thomas Cup Finals – the men's team world championship. And it will be on the young shuttler to keep his team's morale up.

"I don't wish to put additional pressure on Zii Jia but it is the fact. He knows this too," said Chong Wei.

"When you take to court as the first singles in a Thomas Cup tie, you can make or break the team spirit.

"Having said that, I have a lot of confidence in Zii Jia and the support team around him," he added.

Malaysia, who have not won the Thomas Cup since 1992, will face neighbouring rivals Indonesia, England, and the Netherlands in their group when the competition takes place in Denmark.

Injury concerns and Chong Wei's help

The long competitive lay-off caused by the global coronavirus pandemic has affected Zii Jia, who last played at March's All England.

His return to the court last week, in an invitational championships organised by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), ended prematurely after the world number 10 pulled a muscle in his lower back.

However, the injury is not thought to be serious.

Zii Jia said in June that he had been in touch with Lee Chong Wei to ask his senior for advice.

"I looked for him after he retired," Zii Jia explained. "Coaches and people around me can only help me 10 or 20 percent and I must rely on myself for the remaining 80%.

"As singles players we're alone on the court - if you can't handle the stress, fear, and anxiety, then you're bound to lose."

No running

At a relatively young 22, Lee has more to gain than some of his rivals by the postponement of the Tokyo Games.

"For some countries with older players in their teams, one year makes a big difference, but the majority of our players are comparatively young and it could be good for us," the BAM's secretary-general Kenny Goh told Free Malaysia Today.

However, while he still has room to improve, there are some things that Lee won't do – at least not without being forced to do so.

"Running for training, yeah, I hate running more than 5 km," he recently admitted to the BWF in a video about his likes and dislikes.

And, when he travels to Aarhus for the Thomas Cup, you won't see him without one thing he always carries with him.

"Headphones! I listen to music all the time."