The expectation on Lee Zii Jia to win his Group M at the Tokyo Olympics has now become a formality, with many fans and pundits already trying to forecast his path in an expected tricy knockout phase.
But to progress to the last-16, Lee first has to win both his matches against Frenchman Brice Leverdez and Ukraine’s Artem Pochtarov.
The Malaysian is expected to get past his opening match against Pochtarov without much difficulties, but the showdown against Leverdez could pose a question of Zii Jia's character in his first Olympic appearance.
By comparison, Leverdez is competing in his third spectacle after London 2012 and Rio 2016, and brings a wealth of experience which could prove crucial in a ‘winner takes it all’ match like this.
The 35-year-old also relishes battles against top players, having beaten the likes of Lee Chong Wei, Chou Tien-chen, Jonatan Christie, Chen Long and even Zii Jia in recent years.
Against Chong Wei at the first round of the 2017 World Championships, Leverdez could have won in straight games, but the Malaysian somehow levelled in the second game only to bow out in the decider.
The world number 36, however, has not had a good run this year with only quarter-final appearances at the Orlean Masters and European Championships as his best showing.
Nonetheless, form books can be thrown out at the Olympics with renewed belief and performance, which is what the Frenchman is counting on.
“I am practicing twice a day plus physical training in high altitude to improve my physical abilities. Whenever I go to a tournament, I always want to win, especially at the Olympics Games because it is a special one.
“In this tournament you can have surprises, and I hope I can be one of the surprises,” Leverdez told Badminton Europe recently.
With only the group champion guaranteed passage to the knockout round, the onus is on Zii Jia to bring out his A-Games against the potential party popper Leverdez.