LEE Zii Jia’s European Tour 2023


Two semifinals on two Saturdays in a row – including at the All England – means that LZJ can review the past few weeks work with satisfaction. Before he arrived in Europe, fans were eager to see him bounce back from January’s trend of early exits from tournaments; he has emerged from a gloomy slump to continue his journey to more success.

At his best there is nothing that compares to watching LZJ in full flow. His formidable power and athleticism generate excitement and the highest expectations.  Measuring up to – and managing – these expectations has been a huge challenge for him and his team.

The German Open began brightly with an assured victory in R1 but the optimism was punctured by a shock elimination in the next round to CHIA Hao Lee.  Judging by LZJ’s distressed reaction on his infamous Instagram post this defeat stung. It highlighted how lonely his path has become.

On to the All England and it was carnage for the MS seeds in the early rounds this year, but Zii Jia swerved danger and managed to build momentum. Two consecutive two-set victories finally earned him the right to a quarter final against Kodai Naraoka.  KN had dumped LZJ out of the Malaysia Open in the opening round back in January so this was a potentially tricky match, but he remained composed and took his revenge. It was a hard-fought win over 3 sets and gave him his first semifinal for a while. Facing the resurgent SHI Yu Qui for a place in the final he couldn’t quite equal his opponent’s attack and was beaten in straight sets. Reflecting on his campaign LEE said he was at 70% of his best and had learned to believe in himself again

“I think I have proven myself in this tournament. Yes, it may be just a semi-final, but I’ll take it step by step, and I can only get better”.

LZJ speaking at the All England 2023

Another week, another tournament and onto Basel for the Swiss Open. An opening game against LI Shi Feng – newly crowned as All England champion – and the player who had despatched LZJ from the second round of the India Open in January. This time it was the Malaysian who came out on top in three sets. R2 followed by another win, this time against Nhat Nguyen to set up a QF against LEE Chia Hao. Remember that shock early exit from the German Open? Not this time. Although both men looked a bit fatigued Zii Jia battled through to his second semifinal in a week. Unfortunately, this proved to be one match too many for his tired legs and he was defeated quite swiftly by Watanabe.

Team LZJ have said on many occasions that their ultimate goal is to reach the 2024 Paris Olympics. Sometimes it seems that this big picture can be diluted by the frustration of losing a match. No-one wins anything by winning everything; there has to be an acknowledgment by some fans and commentators that losing is part of the process of becoming a better, more resilient athlete.

Full disclosure – I’m a huge fan. I love his raw intimidating intensity; the power and precision he can bring to his shots is top quality. It’s clear though that his self-belief can falter in the face of a poor result and the sometimes brutal (unjustified) criticism that that can attract. He’s an athlete who needs a strong support network who can keep his focus on positives and not let him get bogged down in negativity.

Europe has had a liberating effect. Zii Jia has a chance now to return home and recharge his batteries ready for the challenges to come.

If you enjoyed this take a look at my article about Ng Tze Yong at the All England this year https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2023/03/16/ng-tze-yong-player-of-the-day/

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