Lee’s bid for Malaysian badminton history meets surprise early end

TOKYO – Lee Zii Jia’s (picture) bid to become Malaysia’s first badminton world champion ground to a halt on Thursday with a third-round loss to China’s unseeded surprise-package Zhao Junpeng.

Number five seed Lee was one of the main contenders for the title this week in Tokyo but he fell into an early hole that he could not dig himself out of, going down 21-19, 11-21, 21-19.

Three of the top five men’s seeds in Tokyo have now crashed out before the quarter-finals and Lee said that Zhao had “controlled the match”.

“This is sport,” said the 24-year-old, who joined number two seed Kento Momota and number three Anders Antonsen in making an early exit.

“You’ve got to win, you’ve got to lose, and I think no matter what the result is, we have to accept it.”

Danish number one seed Viktor Axelsen made it through to the quarter-finals with a 21-19, 21-16 win over Thailand’s Sitthikom Thammasin, but India’s Lakshya Sen and China’s Shi Yuqi both fell by the wayside.

Rising star Sen came into the tournament fresh from winning gold at the Commonwealth Games but he could not find a way past Indian compatriot HS Prannoy in a 17-21, 21-16, 21-17 loss.

“In the second game I could have taken the opportunity because it was close,” said the 21-year-old Sen, who was seeded nine.

“In the third game it was very important for me to get a good start but I was always down by one or two points and that made the difference.”

‘It’s a secret’

Prannoy, who stunned Momota in the second round, now faces the world number 23 Zhao in the quarter-finals.

Shi was returning from a 10-month ban from the Chinese Badminton Association for making “inappropriate comments” following a 2021 match where he withdrew on match point.

Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting nipped his comeback in the bud with a 21-11, 13-21, 21-18 win and the number six seed’s reward was a quarter-final match-up against Axelsen.

“Today was not an easy game and tomorrow’s will be more tough, so I will do my very best and enjoy it,” said Ginting, who was cheered on by a small but vocal group of Indonesian fans.

“Of course (Axelsen) has weak points but it’s a secret for me.”

Axelsen has not dropped a game so far in Tokyo but he needed several attempts to finish Thammasin off when he had him on the ropes.

The Dane is looking to be more ruthless against Ginting and said he would “have to be 120 percent ready”.

“I have to play better than I have done so far,” said the top-ranked Axelsen.

“It’s always my goal to do so.”

Defending champion Loh Kean Yew also reached the quarter-finals after opponent Angus Ng of Hong Kong withdrew during the second game.

On the women’s side, defending champion and number one seed Akane Yamaguchi made short work of Japanese compatriot Sayaka Takahashi in a 21-18, 21-7 win.

Yamaguchi will next face former world number one Carolina Marin after the Spaniard fended off four match points to beat China’s He Bingjiao 16-21, 21-15, 22-20.

“To be away for more than one year, not playing these kinds of games against top players, sometimes your confidence is not really high,” said Marin, who only returned from a serious knee injury in May.

“But today, to get this victory gives me some confidence for sure.” –AFP