Despite Malaysia losing to Japan in the Sudirman Cup semi-finals on Saturday, Lee Zii Jia managed to salvage a win for the national team by beating Kento Momota.
As captain of the Sudirman Cup, the sense of obligation to always deliver when he stepped on court resonated strongly in him.
When he lost his first encounter against the Japanese in the group stage, the defeat was a bitter pill to swallow.
Then in a rematch in the semi-finals on Saturday, after men's doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik failed to deliver the first point against Takuro Hoki-Yugo Kobayashi, Lee knew his role as a leader just got bigger.
Not just to galvanise his team-mates by delivering a point to keep Malaysia in this contest, but also to avenge his defeat to the Japanese.
True enough, Lee delivered with a rousing performance to oust the world number one in straight games 22-20, 21-19.
“When Aaron-Wooi Yik couldn’t deliver the first point, I knew I had an obligation to raise their spirits as captain. I had to give my best [against Momota].
“It was a tough match. Momota’s confidence was returning, and mentally I had to be focused on every point and not give up on any shot. I’m an attacking player compared to Momota who is more defensive, so I had to be patient and wait for my chances,” he said.
Malaysia went down 3-1 to Japan despite Lee’s win, but the team can take plenty of credit for coming this far to match their best showing in the Sudirman Cup since 2009.
Not only that, the young national contingent with an average age of 22 also exceeded expectations to reach the semis at the expense of a pulsating 3-2 triumph over a star-studded Indonesia in the quarter-finals.
“The Indonesian team has so many great players, in their women’s doubles, men’s doubles and also men’s singles. So to beat a strong Indonesian team makes me extremely proud,” Lee added.
The 23-year-old will again assume the captain’s armband at the upcoming Thomas Cup in Aarhus, Denmark, next week.
Lee is set to meet Momota in their final group match to complete their trilogy in this team event series.