On Sunday (21 March), Malaysia had a reason to celebrate as local shuttler Lee Zii Jia won the men's singles crown at the 2021 All England Open Badminton Championships.
The 22-year-old took 74 minutes to beat the current world number two Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in a thrilling 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 final held at the Utilita Arena Birmingham in England to win the title.
Lee also defeated the current world number one, Kento Momota from Japan, in straight sets in the quarter finals.
Lee's incredible showing at the All England Open had Malaysians comparing him to the great Lee Chong Wei, who, coincidentally, was the last Malaysian to lift the men's singles trophy for Malaysia back in 2017.
So, who exactly is this rather unknown Malaysian player who went on to stun the world? Well, let us 'introduce' him to you:
#1 His parents were former national basketball players
Lee was born in Alor Setar, Kedah on 29 March 1998 to Lee Chee Hin and Leow Siet Peng. Both of Lee's parents are currently coaching basketball at SMJK Keat Hwa in Alor Setar - and they were basketball stars back in their heyday. His mom represented Malaysia in two SEA Games and his dad was the best national young player at the age of 16, but a knee injury forced him to give up the sport. Now we know where Lee gets his athletic prowess from.
#2 His favourite athlete is Lebron James
When Lee is not busy slaying on court, he likes to watch basketball superstar Lebron James dominate on TV. He told The Star Online
that his favourite basketball team is Los Angeles Lakers, and Lebron is his favourite player. He revealed that he owns several Lakers jerseys and Lebron sneakers.
#3 He started playing badminton at the age of six
Start them young, they said. Lee said in a BWF profile
that he picked up a badminton racquet when he was just six years old. His dad brought him to a badminton club in Kedah, and he fell in love with the game. Despite his parents being basketball players, Lee gravitated towards badminton because “I seemed to excel in badminton more than basketball and I went in that direction.”
#4 He turned pro when he was 13
Even at a young age, Lee has shown tremendous talent in the game. Due to his performance in local tournaments, he was offered a place at the Bukit Jalil Sports School. He turned pro when he was 13, and in 2015, he became the junior champion in the Perak and Selangor Badminton Open at the age of 17.
#5 He won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships
At the age of 18, Lee took part in the World Junior Championships and he came back win a bronze medal after losing to Indonesian shuttler Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo in the semifinals. He didn't sulk for too long, as in the same month, he managed to fight his way to the men's singles final at the India International Series, but he lost to Lakshya Sen.
#6 He won his first senior title when he was 19
That came at the Polish International in 2017, defeating fellow Malaysian Soong Joo Ven in the final. Lee picked up his first BWF World Tour title in 2018 when he beat Japanese shuttler Riichi Takeshita in the final of the Chinese Taipei Open. With that win, he became only the second Malaysian other than Lee Chong Wei to win a BWF top flight men's singles title since 2013.
#7 He won two medals at the 2019 SEA Games
When you start winning, you can't stop, right? Lee continued his winning ways at the 2019 SEA Games, where he picked up a gold medal in the men's singles event. He later helped #TeamMalaysia win a silver medal in the team event.
#8 His last battle with Viktor Axelsen also lasted more than 70 minutes
Before his showdown against Viktor Axelsen on Sunday (21 March) night, Lee actually lost to him in last year's edition of the All England Open, which also happened to be his debut in the tournament. He was defeated by the 27-year-old in the semi final match that lasted 73 minutes. And just like this year's edition, Lee also slayed big names en route to his showdown with Axelsen, as he defeated Olympic gold medalist Chen Long in the quarter finals.
#9 He is currently ranked number 10 in the world
Lee's showing at last year's All England Open raised his world ranking to number 10 on 17 March 2020, the highest-seeded men's singles player in Malaysia since Lee Chong Wei retired in 2019 - all at the tender age of 21. His win at last night's All England Open -- which was his first Super 1000 win, by the way -- will most likely see Lee jump a couple more spots in the world ranking. The future is definitely bright for this young man.