Lee Zii Jia is as close to the top of the badminton world as ever.
In October 2022, the 24-year-old star moved up to No. 2 in the BWF World Rankings – his highest ever position.
When Lee looks up, the only man he sees above him is the reigning Olympic and world champion Victor Axelsen.
So could he climb above the Great Dane to the top spot?
Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei believes he can and would know a thing or two – he enjoyed a 199-week streak as world No. 1 from August 21, 2008 to June 14, 2012.
“Train hard, plan well and avoid injury” is the simple advice the three-time Olympic silver medalist gave to the younger Lee (no relation).
When Olympics.com spoke to Zii Jia at the recent World Championships, he spoke of big goals:
“In Malaysia, we didn’t have an Olympic gold medal or a world champion. So my top priority will always be to achieve any of them.”
But how does he cope with the pressure of being Malaysia’s great hope?
Lee Zii Jia on the pressure of being Malaysia’s main player: ‘It’s motivation’
“Well, I’d say it’s kind of a motivation for me,” continues Olympics.com.
“And of course I think pressure is everywhere and I think everyone has their own pressure. So that’s the kind of problem we have to deal with every time.”
So how does he personally deal with it?
“Just listen to music and try not to think about it too much.”
It’s a simple formula that has taken him to the second rung of the badminton ladder – that and of course giving it his all on the court, hours of practice and preparation, the constant cycle of travel and recuperation and being away from family and friends, dedication and heartbreak over failure.
What was his year 2022?
Lee Zia Jia Results 2022
So far in 2022 Lee Zii Jia has been a rollercoaster ride, there have been some strong victories, crushing defeats and lots of badminton.
French Open, October – Round of 16 (lost to Shesar Hiren Rhustavito)
Denmark Open, October – final (lost to Shi Yu Qi)
Japan Open, August/September – round of 16 (lost to Srikanth Kidambi)
World Championship, August – Round of 16 (lost to Zhao Jun Peng)
Malaysia Open, June – Round of 16 (lost to Shesar Hiren Rhustavito)
Indonesia Open, June – final (lost to Viktor Axelsen)
Indonesia Masters, June – Quarterfinals (lost to Anthony Ginting)
Thailand Open, May – winner (defeated Li Shi Feng in the final)
Thomas and Uber Cup Finals, May – Won all three games (against Toby Penty, Momota Kento and Lakshya Sen)
Asian Badminton Championships, April/May – winner (defeated Jonathan Christie in final)
All-England March – Semi-Final (lost to Lakshya Sen)
German Open, March – semi-final (lost to Kunlavut Vitidsarn)
Asian Team Championship – Led the Malaysian men’s team to victory (defeated Loh Kean Yew, Hatano Riku, Jeon Hyeok Jin and Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo)
Can’t wait with Lee Zii Jia
The defeat brought discipline and maturity to the Malaysian. It is clear from the results that 2022 has been a mixed year for him, with the sheer number of tournaments he has played helping his second-place ranking.
Fatigue was certainly a factor in his inconsistency as it’s not just how much badminton he played but also all the travel added to the physical and mental stress.
At 24, this superhuman schedule is still doable, but as he matures even more, expect him to start playing fewer tournaments and focus on the key competitions.
In fact, he already does. He did not play at the Commonwealth Games or the Southeast Asian Games this season, focusing on the route and getting to where he is now.
Of course, it’s pretty obvious what Lee Zii Jia needs to do to become world No. 1: overtake Viktor Axelsen and beat the big man in the most important competitions when it matters most.
But can it?
Head to head fight between Viktor Axelsen and Lee Zia Jia
Of course he can, he’s already done it twice!
Zii Jia defeated Axelsen in straight sets at the 2019 Korean Open and defeated him again in the 2021 All-England Final in an epic clash, winning the first set 30-29, losing the second 20-22 and convincingly sealing it in the third to 21-9.
The All England victory was where Lee really announced his intentions on the world stage.
The head-to-head record is now 5-2 in Axelsen’s favour, but many matches have been tied to three sets – such as their most recent meeting at the Indonesia Open in June, when Axelsen had just beaten the Malaysian in a pulsating 21-19, 11-21, 23-21.
At the 2022 World Championships in Tokyo last August, Lee told Olympics.com that Axelsen was “on fire” and asked who he thought had the best chance of winning the world title. Zii Jia had no doubts:
“I think it’s Axelsen of course. Yes, he’s been in great shape in these two years and I think he probably has the greatest potential to win a gold medal in this World Championship.
“So I think everyone is a bit afraid of him because he’s been in very high form lately.”
Axelsen won the world title, Lee Zii Jia was eliminated in the 1/8 finals.
But the Danish Olympic champion is not only an opponent and a 1.94 m high obstacle, but also an inspiration for Lee.
And don’t forget that Axelsen is four years ahead of Lee, the Malaysian star is still only 24 and Axelsen is 28 – and Zii Jia is nearing the top of her form in terms of physical development and the mental advantage that comes with experience.
He is on the verge of becoming the world’s No. 1 badminton player, and according to Lee Chong Wei, this is the step he can take:
“Zii Jia is lucky because he will be able to plan his tournaments, and with a solid team by his side, I don’t think it’s impossible for him to be the best soon.”