PETALING JAYA: They say the prime role of a leader is to offer an example of courage and sacrifice.
And Lee Zii Jia is taking his duty as the first singles for the Thomas Cup Finals seriously.
The 24-year-old has decided to skip next week’s Korean Open to give him more time to have a solid preparation for the Finals in Bangkok (May 8-15) and also the Asia Badminton Championships (April 26 to May 1) in the Philippines.
Based on the draw released by the Badminton World Federation, Zii Jia and Co have a great chance to reach the quarter-finals.
Malaysia have been drawn in Group D with Japan, England and New Zealand. On paper, Malaysia and Japan should reach the knockout stage without much problems.
In the group stage, Zii Jia is set to meet Kento Momota, whom he had beaten in the quarter-finals of last month’s All-England before losing to eventual runner-up Lakshya Sen of India in the semi-finals.
Zii Jia also reached the semi-finals of the German Open before losing to eventual champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand.
“I’ve decided to skip the Korean Open because it has been rather hectic for me in the past weeks,” said Zii Jia.
“I want to be fresh and be in better form for the Thomas Cup Finals.
“Before the Thomas Cup, I will also compete in the Asia meet to fine tune my preparation.”
Zii Jia had a turbulent start this year when he decided to leave the Badminton Association of Malaysia to turn professional but his move ended with the national body slapping him with a two-year ban.
The ban was eventually reversed but it took some time for Zii Jia to regain his footing.
“I did not have much time to prepare before the European stint with all that had happened. Now, with more focus in training, I hope to be in better form. ”
The others expected to join Zii Jia in Bangkok are Ng Tze Yong, Leong Jun Hao and probably one of the young talents. The men’s doubles will feature Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani and Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi.
National doubles coaching director Rexy Mainaky wants Malaysia to top their group.
“We have a good draw and we need to fight hard to become group champions to avoid the seeded teams,” said Rexy.
“One of the teams we want to avoid are defending champions Indonesia, who look very strong.”
Malaysia lost to Indonesia in the quarter-finals in Aarhus, Denmark, last year.
Indonesia are in Group A with South Korea, Thailand and Singapore. Indonesia, led by Anthony Ginting, Jonatan Christie and a strong doubles cast, are expected to enter the quarter-finals, hence the fight will be between South Korea and Thailand for the other slot.
“We have a chance to reach the semi-finals but the team members must prepare with one heart, one mission and one motivation to fight all the way.”
Meanwhile, it will be tough for our women to go beyond the group stage of the Uber Cup as they are drawn in Group C with Thailand, Denmark and Egypt.