Malaysia Open: Naraoka sends Zii Jia packing in first round

TOP national men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia (picture) suffered the embarrassment of a first-round exit on home ground when he was sent packing 21-13, 17-21, 19-21 by rising Japanese star Kodai Naraoka in the Malaysia Open at the Axiata Arena, in Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.

Although world number two Zii Jia began stylishly for a 21-13 win, the seventh-ranked Japanese gallantly fought back to take the second game 21-17.

The closely-fought third game saw the 21-year-old Japanese ace emerge victorious after a 72-minute battle.

Naraoka will now face another Malaysian – Ng Tze Yong – in the last 16 today.

Zii Jia has suffered early exits in the Malaysian Open before. Apart from his second-round loss to unheralded Indonesian player Shesar Hiren Rhustavito last year, he also suffered a first-round defeat to Thailand’s Suppanyu Avihingsanon in 2019.

Zii Jia, the 2021 All-England champion, said that while he accepted the bad start to the 2023 season, he also hopes to stage a comeback.

“I feel that the draught issue was more challenging… it’s the same for all players but Kodai had the advantage because he was more patient and played more defensively.

“This is the choice I made (to play without a coach). For better or worse, I have to accept it… no regrets. For now, Liew Daren will remain as (my) coach,” Zii Jia told reporters after his first-round exit.

Zii Jia is being guided by his sparring partner Daren after parting ways with coach Indra Wijaya last November.

Commenting on next week’s India Open, Zii Jia said there was nothing much he could improve on within the next few days, except to learn from his mistakes.

Earlier, Tze Yong had no problems disposing of Ireland’s Nhat Nguyen 21-4, 21-10.

“To me, it wasn’t an easy match. I focused on one point at a time and managed to adapt better to the draught and that’s why I won. Naraoka is a good player but what I can promise is that I will give him a good fight today,” Tze Yong said. – Bernama