Newly crowned All-England men’s singles champion Lee Zii Jia was lost for words to describe his momentous 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 victory over Viktor Axelsen on Sunday in a gripping 74-minute final that had the entire nation singing his praises.
“It was a tough match. You could see that in the first game where we battled to 29-29. I just told myself to focus on every moment. For me, there’s happy, sad, excited. Everything just came into one moment and it’s hard to describe how I’m feeling,” said Lee in the aftermath of the win.
With Malaysians gripping the edge of their seats watching this roller-coaster final, their representative exuded a picture of calmness on court against the defending champion, especially in the first game.
Where many national shuttlers had faltered in crucial stages like this, Zii Jia kept his cool to convert in sudden death despite continuously pegged back by Axelsen.
He may have surrendered the second game after leading at 18-14, but the damage had already been done to Axelsen, both physically and mentally.
The Dane started well with a 3-1 lead in the decider, but Lee soon imposed his authority and eventually forced the world number two into submission.
Axelsen admitted his opponent’s superiority in a ‘crazy’ match.
“Lee played well in the crucial stages and I was sloppy. I had spent quite a bit of energy playing a lot of matches this week. Lee is the rightful winner and I want to congratulate him.”
Zii Jia’s reward for the biggest victory of his career is a handsome RM244,400.
But the reward of beating Axelsen, and before that world number one and reigning world champion Kento Momota in the last eight, is a far bigger one.
He now knows he has the qualities, and as evident in the final, a plethora of skill-set to beat anyone if he sets his mind to it.
Zii Jia had played an almost perfect All-England, only dropping one game in the final.
Tributes also poured in from all over, notably from his predecessor Lee Chong Wei and Prime Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
This victory have many starting to label him as the ‘next Lee Chong Wei’.
But Zii Jia is not that. He is a shuttler with a different style, the country’s latest men’s singles star, and now a champion in his own right.
It will be quite a feat for the Kedah-born to equal Chong Wei’s 69 career titles, but he does not need to think of matching, or eclipsing that record for now.
With time and consistency, the 22-year-old will set his own excellence bar, and in the process continue to make the country proud in the years to come.