'Axelsen is the man to beat'

MEN'S singles Lee Zii Jia admitted that reigning Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen is on fire and is currently the player to beat.

This comes following the Malaysian's 21-19, 21-19 defeat to the Dane in the quarter-finals of the Denmark Open on Friday.

Zii Jia, who defeated Axelsen in the final of the All England in March, pointed out that Axelsen has grown in confidence since clinching the Tokyo Olympic gold medal in August, making him a very difficult shuttler to play against.

For the record, Axelsen has not lost a match since his All England defeat to Zii Jia.

After the defeat, the Dane has been unbeaten, winning 21 matches (not including yesterday's Denmark Open semi-final match against Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu) and dropping only a game in the process.

"It was a tough match, but he (Axelsen) was more confident, especially during the crucial points.

"He has become very confident after the Olympics. He is always playing at a very high level.

"It is really tough to beat him," said Zii Jia.

The 23-year-old, who helped Malaysia reach the semi-finals of the Sudirman Cup in Finland earlier this month, also noted that consistency remains his biggest challenge when playing against the big boys.

After scoring huge upsets over Kento Momota of Japan and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia in the Sudirman Cup, Zii Jia suffered a dip in form in last week's Thomas Cup in Aarhus.

Defeats to Momota and Ginting saw Zii Jia failing to deliver the first point for Malaysia in their encounters against Japan (lost 4-1) and eventual champions Indonesia (lost 3-0).

"I can't always maintain the same focus at this high level.

"This is one of my weaknesses right now," added the world No 8.

Meanwhile, Axelsen had encouraging words for his Malaysian opponent.

"Zii Jia is a very strong opponent, and he has shown that many times.

"However, we cannot compare this match to the All England because it is totally different. Shuttle speed and surroundings are different in every tournament. Today (Friday) was a quick and fast-paced game." Axelsen said.

In the men's doubles, in-form Goh Sze Fei-Nur Izzuddin Rumsani continued their impressive run in Odense with a superb 21-18, 21-17 upset over fourth seeds Fajar Alfian-Muhammad Rian Ardianto of Indonesia to reach the last-fourth stage.

Sze Fei-Izzuddin played eight seeds Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen of Denmark late yesterday.

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