National shuttler Lee Zii Jia made Malaysians proud after defeating world number two player Viktor Axelsen and emerging number one in the All England Open Badminton Championships this year
Lee won against Axelsen from Denmark in a nail-biting best-of-three on 21 March – the victory being a comeback for Lee after he lost to Axelsen only two months before in the BWF World Tour Finals.
Impressively, the 23-year-old also defeated world number one, Kento Momota from Japan, in straight sets in the quarter finals and Dutch player Mark Caljouw in the semis to earn the title.
With Lee quickly becoming a Malaysian household name, here are some things you should know about him:
1. He hails from Alor Setar, Kedah
A true-blue Malaysian, Lee was born on 29 March 1998 in Alor Setar.
He attended SJK(C) Keat Hwa (H) and even in primary school, Lee already showed great talent for badminton.
2. He started playing badminton at the age of six
3. He started playing professionally at 13
Not before long, due to his outstanding performance in local tournaments, he was scouted and offered a place at Bukit Jalil Sports School, where he started to train and compete professionally.
And he has continued to improve. According to New Straits Times, in 2015, at the age of 17, he became the junior champion in the Perak and Selangor Badminton Opens.
The next year, he made his international debut at the Belgium International Challenge 2016 and has since been competing at the international level.
4. He is trained by other former national badminton champions
5. His parents are ex-national basketball players
In an interview with The Star, Lee revealed that his mother, Leow Siet Peng, had represented Malaysia in two SEA Games in her prime, while his father, Lee Chee Hin, was the best national player at the age of 16 but was forced to give up the sport due to a knee injury.
Both his parents are currently coaching basketball at SMJK Keat Hwa in Alor Setar.
6. Understandably, while he has chosen a career in badminton, Lee also loves basketball
He told The Star that he often plays basketball during the badminton off-season to stay fit, and trains with his parents at the secondary school back in Alor Setar.
His favourite NBA basketball team is the Los Angeles Lakers, while his favourite players are LeBron James and the late Kobe Bryant.
7. He is the first Malaysian to win the All England title since 2017
Lee is the first Malaysian to bag the title after Lee Chong Wei last did so in 2017.
He joins only a handful of other Malaysian shuttlers who have won the BWF Tour Super 1000 tournament title, including Wong Peng Soon (1950, 1951, 1952, 1955), Datuk Eddy Choong (1953, 1954, 1956, 1957), Tan Aik Huang (1966), Muhammad Hafiz Hashim (2003), and Lee Chong Wei (2010, 2011, 2014, 2017).
8. While the All England Open is his biggest win so far, he has been winning medals for Malaysia all this time
In November 2016, at the age of 18, Lee bagged a bronze and silver medal in the BWF World Junior Championships for boys' singles and mixed team categories, respectively.
This was followed by a silver for men's team category at the 2017 SEA Games and a bronze for the same category at the 2018 Badminton Asia Team Championships.
More recently, he proudly snagged a gold and silver at the 2019 SEA Games for the coveted men's singles and the men's team categories respectively, and a silver for the men's team category at the 2020 Badminton Asia Team Championships.
9. He is currently ranked number eight in the world
Lee is currently the only Malaysian shuttler in the top 10 of the BWF World Rankings.
As of 24 March 2021, he has played in 25 tournaments and won 166 out of 243 games.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a shining career, as like so many other local athletes, Lee is driven by the Olympic dream and hopes to one day bring back a gold for Malaysia.
Here's another national athlete who has gained quite a bit of attention at the recent Olympic Games in Japan:
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