Being an athlete is about more than endless training, big games, and taking home gold medals. Some athletes discover they’re good at a sport at a young age and rise fast as they progress through their journey. However, others have different fates, facing as many roadblocks as breakthroughs. That’s been Lee Zii Jia’s story.
Lee Zii Jia is a young badminton player from Malaysia who has already made waves in the international sporting arena. He’s currently ranked fourth in the world for men’s singles, and his meteoric rise is largely attributed to his commitment and natural talent.
But his ongoing journey is far from over. We continue to see many glimpses of his potential and debacles as he strives for the top spot.
The Birth of a World-Class Badminton Player
Lee Zii Jia was born on March 29th, 1998, in Alor Setar, Kedah, Malaysia. His Chinese Malaysian parents, Lee Chee Hin and Leow Siet Peng, introduced him to badminton when he was six. His father, a former basketball player, ultimately helped him discover his excellence in the game.
Lee Zii Jia then entered several under-12 competitions and won many until he was selected for the Bukit Jalil Sports School. There, he trained with various coaches, including Datuk Misbun Sidek and Datuk Tey Seu Bock, former national badminton champions.
The young badminton player became the junior champion in the 2015 Perak and Selangor Badminton Open. His performances earned him a spot in the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), which allowed him to compete in professional tournaments.
In 2017, at the Polish International, Lee Zii Jia won his first senior title and reached the Bitburger Open semifinals. And in 2018, he beat the world’s number four men’s singles player, Chou Tien Chen, in the Chinese Taipei Open semifinals. The same year, he won his first BWF World Tour and second international titles. At 20 years old, he was the second Malaysian to win a BWF top-flight men’s singles since 2013, after Lee Chong Wei.
Lee Zii Jia’s journey as an athlete became more challenging in 2019. He competed in various international games, won some, and lost some. He’s since talked about coping with monetary troubles and his lack of progress.
He qualified in the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland but lost to Japan’s Kento Momota, the then world’s number-one men’s singles player who eventually became the World Champion. The same year, he had to retire and withdraw from the China and Hong Kong Opens because of food poisoning. Still, he ranked 11th in the BWF World Ranking and won a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games.
Becoming One of the World’s Top Men’s Singles Badminton Players
Lee Zii Jia’s setbacks in previous years only pushed him to work harder in 2020. He started the season with participation in the Southeast Asian tours. When COVID-19 canceled the German Open in March, the All England Open became his next tournament.
The young athlete went on a winning streak until he lost against Danish player Viktor Axelsen in a 73-minute semifinal game. Still, the world witnessed the rise of his world ranking to number ten because of his excellent performance. Lee Zii Jia finally achieved his dream of becoming one of the world’s top men’s singles badminton players!
Everything has gone uphill since then, with better tournament performances and more tremendous success. In 2021, he finally won his first All England Open Super 1000 tournament against the defending champion Viktor Axelsen.
He competed in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, winning against Ukrainian player Artem Pochtarov and French player Brice Leverdez. Unfortunately, he was eliminated in the 16th round after losing against Chinese player Chen Long. Lee Zii Jia pushed through with his badminton career, reaching the Hylo Open finals until his injuries got the best of him.
Change of Plans
Perhaps the most unexpected turn in Lee Zii Jia’s journey was his decision to leave the national team after 13 years in 2021. He was 23, the world’s seventh top men’s singles badminton player. The badminton community was shocked at his sudden departure. He expressed unhappiness with BAM, stating that he couldn’t cope with the pressure from the team. Though not everyone supported his decision, he opened his 2022 season as an independent player.
If there was one person who praised the top badminton star’s resolve, it was Olympic men’s singles champion, Viktor Axelsen. Axelsen also quit his national team after winning the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021. Regarding Lee Zii Jia’s departure from his team, Axelsen said only he knows what’s best for himself.
Lee Zii Jia was banned from tournaments for two years because of his decision, putting him at a disadvantage. But he returned to the court after a sincere conversation with the higher-ups. From there, he won the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships, his first BWF World Tour Super 500 title, and got his highest rank of world number two.
Moving Forward: What’s Yet To Come
It hasn’t been a smooth-sailing road for Lee Zii Jia and there are still some hurdles ahead. Many wonder if he’s returning to the national team, with some urging him to apologize first, if ever. His compatriot and badminton legend Lee Chong Wei recognized his struggles as an athlete and encouraged him “forget about all the past early round defeats and start from scratch again…”
Fans, both old and new, can only imagine what the future holds for Lee Zii Jia. However, the ever-evolving, fearless badminton player aims to prove he’s worthy of world number two. The inconsistencies in his performances may scare some, but Lee Zii Jia hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down in his badminton career. He’s determined to be the best and write his own unique story.
Coachless or not, national team or independent, Lee Zii Jia will still be an ambitious badminton star, always seeking the winning formula for success. He’s already gone far, but the sky’s the limit for him. The world awaits his upcoming battles and triumphs on the court!
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