Can Zii Jia keep his Asia crown?

KUALA LUMPUR: The Badminton Asia Championships (BAC), which get underway today in Dubai, is set to be a mouthwatering affair.

Apart from boasting some of the world's best shuttlers, this year's edition — held for the first time in the United Arab Emirates — will be the final stop on the international calendar before the start of the one-year Olympic qualifying period.

The singles event, as usual, will be the main highlight.

While there won't be a Viktor Axelsen to beat in the men's singles event, the rest of the world's top 10 players will be coming out with guns blazing to dethrone world No 4 and defending champion Lee Zii Jia.

Since turning pro last year, Zii Jia has quickly become a target man on the international stage.

The top half of the draw looks really tough with the likes of 2018 Asian Games gold medallist and last year's finalist, Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, China's Shi Yuqi, Japan's Kodai Naraoka, former world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore and Taiwan's Chou Tien Chen.

Besides these top guns, expect a strong challenge from players like former world No 1 K.Srikanth of India, his Thomas Cup-winning teammate and Commonwealth Games champion, Lakshya Sen, Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu and Malaysia's world No 25 Ng Tze Yong.

In the bottom half of the draw, Zii Jia will need to clear the likes of Hong Kong's Angus Ng, world No 2 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia, India's H.S.Prannoy, China's Li Shi Feng and Thai ace Kunlavut Vitidsarn.

The BAC does not only offer bragging rights but also world ranking points equivalent to a Super 1,000 event.

With the Olympic qualifiers looming, top players like Zii Jia will want to send out an early warning, as they gear up for the Sudirman Cup next month.

For the record, Zii Jia is only the sixth Malaysian men's singles to win the coveted crown.

The tournament will begin with the qualifying rounds today, before the start of the main draw tomorrow.

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