Having led Malaysia to the Sudirman Cup semifinals last week, Lee Zii Jia will now look to inspire the men’s team at the Thomas Cup. Malaysia are with Japan and Canada in Group D, and while the team will be expected to make the quarterfinals without much trouble, Lee’s group match against Kento Momota will be closely followed after their two clashes last week.
The Malaysian ace talks about his role as spearhead and the lessons he learnt from senior compatriot Lee Chong Wei at Malaysia’s last Thomas Cup:
This is your second Thomas Cup. How would you look at this campaign, compared to the last one?
The difference between the last Thomas Cup and this is that we’re without Lee Chong Wei. The last Thomas Cup was my first time in the team with Lee Chong Wei, and I watched him play as captain and first singles and now I’m playing first singles and I’m also captain. I think in all these years I’ve learnt so much and grown to become a better player and a mature player. That makes me more experienced and mature and I know to lead the team and of course I have Aaron (Chia) and (Soh) Wooi Yik with me.
At your first Thomas Cup the team was led by Lee Chong Wei. What lessons did you pick up from watching him?
Last time, we had a good fight against Denmark and we couldn’t beat them as we were unlucky. I saw that every single teammate was very sad, especially Lee Chong Wei, he was very down at that moment. I thought one day I will also go through all this, so I have to be prepared.
You mentioned the additional responsibility as leader of the team. Has that role helped you as a player?
The most important thing is that you have to handle pressure, as captain and as first singles. Lee Chong Wei told me the first match is always very important, not just for myself but for the team also. You have to do everything you can to win because it’s very important for the team.
You played well at the Sudirman Cup last week. Do you see yourself maintaining that level through the various competitions this year?
That’s what I hope for. For one or two years we haven’t had tournaments. During those times I was also confused about my level, because after tournaments (in a normal season) we break for two months, but now it’s totally different. We have tournaments back-to-back, so I think this is good timing for me to test myself and to know my level and whether I can maintain my level all the time.
And your thoughts about the World Championships?
Our final target will be the World Championships. Everyone’s dream is to be world champion. I also have the same wish of wanting to be world champion. Of course at this Thomas Cup tournament I will give my best but my main target will be the World Championships.
Malaysia is grouped with Japan and Canada. What do you make of your group assignments?
Against Canada I think Brian Yang will be a challenge, he had good performances recently. We can’t look down on Canada, we have to give our best. The tough opponents of course will be Japan. That will be a good test for our juniors and seniors, especially our second and third singles. They also haven’t competed in tournaments for a few months.
Another clash with Momota is on the cards…
Both of us will prepare well for this match. We had a tough match at the Sudirman Cup last week. Hopefully I can maintain my level.
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