KUALA LUMPUR – Badminton’s world No. 2 Lee Zii Jia suffered a shock first-round defeat against rising Japanese star Kodai Naraoka in the first upset of the season-opening Malaysia Open on Wednesday.
Naraoka, ranked seventh in the world, downed the Malaysian star 13-21, 21-17, 21-19 in a 73-minute encounter.
Lee, the reigning Asian champion, was the clear favourite of the home fans, who chanted his name at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur.
The two shuttlers had not met before and it was Lee who went on the offensive to take the first game.
But Naraoka stormed back to level the match in a hardworking performance and then sealed the victory with superior net play and by striking at the right moments.
“I have given my best but it was not enough. I have to accept this result,” said Lee, who was playing in his first tournament without a coach.
“That final few points was about being confident, and he had it more than me.”
Lee split with his Indonesian former coach Indra Wijaya in November. He said it was not the same training without a coach and that he would have to live with his decision.
A happy Naraoka said of his win: “I tried to be aggressive against him and it worked out.”
Meanwhile, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew advanced into the round of 16 after a 21-19, 23-21 win over China’s world No. 20 Li Shifeng. Loh will face another Chinese rival, 12th-ranked Zhao Junpeng, next on Thursday.
World champion Viktor Axelsen will face Malaysia’s Liew Daren in the second round on Thursday. AFP