Lee Zii Jia was hailed a “hero” yesterday after winning the All England Open and igniting Malaysia’s hopes of success at the Tokyo Olympics, even without retired legend Lee Chong Wei.
The young Malaysian on Sunday defeated Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 to win the All England Open, one of badminton’s most prestigious tournaments, for the first time.
“I just can’t describe my feelings now,” Lee Zii Jia said after the victory, adding that he missed having a crowd witness his big moment.
“I’m happy, sad and excited all coming in the one time. It is a very special moment for me,” he said.
On his way to victory, the 22-year-old also beat two-time world champion Kento Momota, who was returning to international action after being injured in a traffic accident in Malaysia last year.
“Well done Lee Zii Jia! You are a national hero,” Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wrote on Facebook. “Use this victory as a catalyst to work harder and to become greater in future.”
The Star newspaper praised the world No. 10’s victory as a “smashing breakthrough on the international stage,” while adding that “a new star is born.”
The win added to hopes that Malaysia has found a player to continue the nation’s success in badminton following the 2019 retirement of Lee Chong Wei, who was a three-time Olympic silver medalist and one of the greatest players of his generation.
Badminton Association of Malaysia president Norza Zakaria said that Lee Zii Jia’s victory was a “real achievement.”
“It augurs well with our plan to bring in new young players after the retirement of Lee Chong Wei ... and to maintain Malaysia’s presence on the international stage as a powerhouse,” he said.
The victory came just months before the delayed Tokyo Olympics, but top Asian nations Taiwan, China and South Korea did not send players to the tournament, and Norza refused to be drawn on the Lee Zii Jia’s chances at the Games.
“I don’t want to pressure him. My advice to him is to stay grounded — it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Norza said.
In the women’s singles final, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara crushed Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong 21-12, 21-16.
“Five years ago I won here and there was no pressure, this time I’m in the top five players in women’s singles so that changed things, but my overall play is now at a higher level, so I am very happy,” Okuhara said.
Japan also dominated the doubles, with all three finals between six Japanese pairings.
Yuta Watanabe claimed both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles titles.
Watanabe and Hiroyuki Endo beat Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda in the men’s doubles final 21-15, 17-21, 21-11.
Arisa Higashino was Watanabe’s partner for the mixed doubles success as they saw off Yuki Kaneko and Misaki Matsutomo 21-14, 21-13.
Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara beat Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota 21-18, 21-16 in the women’s doubles final.
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