High first hurdle for Zii Jia

KUALA LUMPUR: Following his first round exit from the French Open in Paris, many have begun to question if Lee Zii Jia has what it takes to rise to the occasion at the All England this week.

World No. 10 Zii Jia faces a tough opening tie tomorrow when he takes on Japan's No. 1 Kodai Naraoka in the first round.

On paper, the Japanese ace will start as the favourite, but despite all the criticism he's received over the last few years, Zii Jia has proven not once, but on four occasions, that Birmingham is his favourite hunting ground.

Since his debut in the Super 1000 event four years ago, the 26-year-old independent shuttler has never failed to reach the semi-finals and in 2021 stunned Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the final to claim his maiden crown.

Will Zii Jia maintain his impressive record in Birmingham, or will it end in another heartbreak?

World No. 6 Kodai has a better head-to-head (3-1) record over the Malaysian, but surprisingly has never beaten Zii Jia on English soil.

In fact, Zii Jia defeated the Japanese shuttler to reach his fourth straight All England semi-final last year.

In the absence of another Malaysian men's singles player, Ng Tze Yong, who is still recovering from a lower back surgery, all eyes will be on Zii Jia to deliver.

Should Zii Jia overcome Kodai, he will face either former world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore or Hong Kong's Angus Ng Ka Long in the second round.

Other notable players in the bottom half of the draw include recently crowned French Open champion Shi Yu Qi of China, his opponent in the final, Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand, and this year's Malaysia Open champion Anders Antonsen of Denmark.

Former world No. 1 and four-time All England champion Lee Chong Wei believes now is the time for players to step up if they want to be medal contenders at the Paris Olympics in July.

A good run at the All England will surely boost Zii Jia's confidence, especially as players move into the final phase of Olympic qualifying.

The one-year Olympic qualifying period will end next month.

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