Cover Photo: Adrian Dennis / AFP

23-year-old Kedah-born shuttler Lee Zii Jia scored the highly coveted All England crown over the weekend, raising Malaysia’s profile on the global badminton stage

On March 21, Lee Zii Jia earned a stunning All England Open Badminton Championships win after a nail-biting showdown in a tight, 74-minute battle at the Arena Birmingham with current world number two and defending champion Viktor Axelsen from Denmark.

The outstanding victory put him in the same league as other Malaysian greats such as Wong Peng Soon, Eddie Choong, Tan Aik Huang, Hafiz Hashim, and Lee Chong Wei, and made him an internet sensation overnight—and rightfully so, as he's the first Malaysian to win the prestigious badminton title in four years.

Here are five things you should know about Malaysia’s new smashing superstar:

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Sports in his blood

Lee was born in Alor Setar, Kedah to Lee Chee Hin and Leow Siet Peng, teachers and former national basketball players. In fact, his mother represented Malaysia in basketball in the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore while his father was the best national young player at the age of 16. Both parents are currently coaching basketball at SMJK Keat Hwa in Alor Setar.

Lee said he could've gone on to be a basketball player, but he didn't. "I seemed to excel in badminton more than basketball, and I went in that direction," he revealed.

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He started young

“When I was six years old, my dad brought me to a badminton club in Kedah. I started playing just for health reasons before improving better and better,” he wrote in his BWF profile. Due to his extraordinary talent and results in the under 12 competition, he was soon drafted into the Bukit Jalil Sports School.

Lee later turned pro at only 13 years old and in 2015, he became the junior champion in the Perak and Selangor Badminton Open, earning him a place in the Badminton Association of Malaysia.

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Medals to show for

He may be young, but he already boasts an impressive medal haul. In November 2016, Lee bagged a bronze medal in the World Junior Championships for boys' singles and silver for the mixed team category.

This was followed by a silver for the men's team category at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, a bronze for the men's team category at the 2018 Badminton Asia Team Championships, a gold and a silver at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games for the men's single and the men's team categories respectively, and a silver for the men's team category at the 2020 Badminton Asia Team Championships.

Of course, his latest win being the All England Open Badminton Championships.

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En route to the top

Although the 23-year-old is not yet on par with Malaysia’s badminton great Datuk Lee Chong Wei, who retired in 2019, he certainly has potential. For the uninitiated, the older Lee was ranked first worldwide for 349 weeks, including a 199-week streak from August 21, 2008 to June 14, 2012, and has won 69 titles during his career.

Currently ranked world number 10, Lee is the highest-seeded men's singles player in Malaysia since his senior retired in 2019. He also conquered the All England five years earlier than his predecessor when the latter won in 2010.

Despite being often compared to his senior, Lee just wants to be his own man and forge a name for himself. "I just want to be myself and concentrate on what needs to be done,” he said.

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Next stop: Olympics

Like many others, Lee is driven by the Olympic dream. In fact, his biggest sporting ambition is to be an Olympic champion.

Lee Chong Wei has tipped the young shuttler to shine on his Olympic debut. “If Lee Zii Jia can repeat his All England form, he is definitely a medal contender at the Tokyo Olympics,” the three-time Olympic silver medallist said.

Lee defied the odds and defeated reigning Olympic champion Chen Long of China to reach the All England 2020 semi-finals. All eyes are on Lee, the only Malaysian singles representative, as he's scheduled to face Chen Long once again in the Olympics’ round of 16 at 6:15pm today, July 29, for a place in the quarterfinals on Saturday, July 31. Details on where to watch it here.