Australian Open: Lee Rediscovers Mojo

Lee Zii Jia is enjoying his badminton again.

Disillusioned by a massive form slump following his Denmark Open runner-up finish in October 2022, Lee dropped a bombshell with his announcement of a temporary break “to find my motivation and passion again” after a first-round exit at the Indonesia Open in June last year.

A short break followed, and training under new coach Wong Tat Meng got tougher upon returning. A year on, Lee has now won three HSBC BWF World Tour titles – the latest at SATHIO GROUP Australian Open 2024 on Sunday. It’s his second title in five weeks, during which a half-fit Lee also finished second to then world No.1 Viktor Axelsen at Malaysia Masters.

“I’ve changed a lot mentally, I’m calmer and that’s encouraging ahead of the Olympics,” said Lee after outlasting second seed Kodai Naraoka 21-19 11-21 21-18 in 78 minutes. “Plenty of positives over the past five weeks. I now need to go back, rest, recharge and start my Paris 2024-prep.”

Lee playing his best badminton again.

Over the past five weeks, Lee’s the only player to contest three title matches. His rare hiccup came at the Indonesia Open, in the quarterfinal against world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn. Lee’s endurance looks enhanced, so does his mental strength. In the decider, Naraoka came back to 18-18 despite at once stage trailing 17-11.

Lee wasn’t fazed.

“Even when he called for medical timeout (at 16-11) or when it got to 18-all, I didn’t feel nervous,” revealed Lee, the first Malaysian men’s singles to triumph in Australia since Lee Tsuen Seng in 2008. “It was an exciting battle, one of the toughest, yet best plays in my career. Kodai gave his all, we both played a good match. I quite enjoyed myself out there.”

With the Olympics just six weeks away, everything seems to be falling into place at the right time for the 26-year-old 2021 All England champion. Statistically the form men’s singles player going into the global showpiece, who’s to bet against a glittering finish for Lee in the City of Lights come August?

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