Lee Zii Jia will command the nation’s attention as he returns to the Malaysia Open this week, and this time having to navigate his way without a coach.
The world number two has one of the toughest opening-round matches at the Axiata Arena as he squares off against Japan’s highest ranked shuttler Kodai Naraoka.
Lee is aware of the quality his opponent possesses, and will not take anything for granted.
“Before this, I was the rising player causing the big names a problem. Now he [Naraoka] is doing that. He’s a defensive player who likes long rallies. So I must be prepared to engage in long rallies and exert a lot of energy,” said Lee, who will have Liew Daren on the sidelines as a coach.
Lee split with Indra Wijaya last November after less than a year together.
The Kedah-born compared his situation to Chinese Taipei ace Chou Tien-chen, who also plays without a handler.
“Chou also doesn’t have a coach, and sets his own training routine. I have chosen this path, so I have no regrets. Being on your own means it is up to you to push yourself in training, no one else will do it for you,” he added.
Meanwhile, reigning champion Viktor Axelsen also tested courts on Sunday at the Axiata Arena.
The Dane said the stature of the Malaysia Open to a Super 1000 event will not have any bearing on his performance.
“My focus is on playing my best game, regardless if it’s a Super 300, Super 500 or Super 1000. I just hope to put my full focus on my first match and play my best badminton,” said Axelsen, who takes on national team-mate Rasmus Gemke in the opening round.
Besides Lee, hopes are riding high on the likes of doubles' pairs Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah to go the distance.
World champions Chia-Soh are up against Chinese Taipei’s Lee Jhe-huei-Yang Po-hsuan in the opening round, while Tan-Thinaah take on Bulgarian sisters Gabriela-Stefani Stoeva in the women’s doubles.