A grim Olympic omen for Zii Jia

KUALA LUMPUR: Lee Zii Jia was given a grim reminder of what he can expect at the Paris Games in four months' time when he shockingly lost 21-15, 21-19 in the very first round of the French Open at the Olympic venue to Denmark's Magnus Johannesen yesterday.

However, in the post-match interview, Zii Jia, 25, was full of praise for the Porte de La Chapelle Arena, saying he can't wait to return to the venue for the Olympics.

"The court is fantastic, I'm looking forward to playing again in July," he said.

But just how prepared Zii Jia is for his second Olympics is anybody's guess. One thing for certain is that Zii Jia will not return to Paris as a major medal contender if he continues his current erratic form.

Johannesen took full advantage of world No. 10 Zii Jia's errors for his first match victory on the World Tour after five events this year.

Such a defeat to a lower-ranked opponent undoubtedly casts a shadow over Zii Jia's prospects at the Olympics, considering his current struggle to regain form.

What is even more worrying is Zii Jia's admission that Johannesen, whose best result on the World Tour was second at last year's Orleans Masters Super 300, dominated the match.

In the second game, Johannesen maintained a 10-point lead at 17-7. Although Zii Jia attempted a comeback and narrowed the gap to 20-19, the young Dane remained composed to seal the match.

"Magnus played a good game today. I lacked patience and made numerous unforced errors," lamented Zii Jia.

"I couldn't find my rhythm and became increasingly frustrated. Magnus's defensive shots shook my confidence.

"Honestly, I don't believe I had control at any point during the match. While I had opportunities to turn the tide in the final moments, it just wasn't my day."

The 2021 All England champion has now endured seven consecutive tournaments without advancing beyond the quarter-finals, including three first-round exits.

Zii Jia will look to the All England next week for redemption. The Arena Birmingham holds fond memories for him, a place where he reached, at least, the semi-finals in all four of his appearances since his debut in 2020.

For Johannesen, he couldn't be happier to upstage the "world class" Zii Jia in such a fashion, a year after he was outclassed 21-11, 21-5 by the Malaysian at the German Open.

"One year ago I lost to him very big. Back then it was one of my first meetings with a top world class player, but since then I've played others, and I hadn't had a chance against players like him and Viktor (Axelsen) and Shi Yu Qi, so it was a big one to get for me today," said Johannesen.

Japan's Kodai Naraoka and India's H.S. Prannoy, the sixth and seventh seeds, were the other notable casualties of the day.

Naraoka was eliminated 14-21, 22-20, 21-17 by Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo of Indonesia while Prannoy lost 21-17, 21-17 to China's Lu Guang Zu.

On Tuesday, Indonesia's Jonatan Christie failed to defend his title after being upset 12-21, 23-21, 21-17 by Taiwan's Wang Tzu Wei.

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