Unheralded Lee in All England semis

Lee Zii Jia during the Malaysia Masters in January, when he reached the last four. The 21-year-old, who has shot up the world rankings in the past year to No. 13, will play Danish second seed Viktor Axelsen in today's semi-finals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANC
Lee Zii Jia during the Malaysia Masters in January, when he reached the last four. The 21-year-old, who has shot up the world rankings in the past year to No. 13, will play Danish second seed Viktor Axelsen in today's semi-finals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Young Malaysian giant-killer Lee Zii Jia yesterday breezed into the All England Open semi-finals with a comprehensive straight-game victory over third seed and Olympic champion Chen Long.

Last year's SEA Games gold medallist won 21-12, 21-18 in 49 minutes for his second major scalp in Birmingham, after shocking Indonesian sixth seed Jonatan Christie in the first round.

For a place in the final, Lee will have to get past second seed Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, who beat China's Shi Yuqi 21-15, 21-7.

In the women's singles, Chen's compatriot Chen Yufei, the top seed and defending champion, avoided the same fate - coming from behind to eliminate Thai Ratchanok Intanon 17-21, 21-15, 21-17 in the quarter-finals.

She will meet either Japan's Nozomi Okuhara, the fourth seed, or P.V. Sindhu, seeded sixth, in the last four.

On Thursday, Chinese legend Lin Dan showed that at 36, he was no longer the hot favourite in a tournament where he has clinched six titles.

The five-time world champion and two-time Olympic champion, after edging out Thai teenager Kunlavut Vitidsarn in three games in the first round, failed to match world No. 5 Chen as he lost 21-17, 21-8.

Lin, ranked 19th, has had a rivalry with Chen since 2009.

Following Thursday's defeat, his fifth in their last six meetings, he now trails his opponent 10-9 in their head-to-head record.

The 31-year-old Chen paid tribute to Lin after his victory, saying: "Lin is always the best player, so I always treasure each time I play with him."

It was not only a disappointing end to Lin's 17th All England campaign, but also a huge blow to his Tokyo Olympic hopes.

The US$1.1 million (S$1.6 million) BWF World Tour event offers 12,000 ranking points to the winner and, with Olympic qualification on the line, many top players are in action this week in Birmingham despite the coronavirus pandemic.

BAFFLED

In international badminton we just stopped shaking hands... how does this make sense? Why are we so special that we should keep going?

HANS-KRISTIAN VITTINGHUS, Danish shuttler, calling for the suspension of the international badminton circuit.

Nations can enter a maximum of two players each in the men and women's singles, if both are ranked in the world's top 16. Based on the latest rankings, Chen Long and world No. 9 Shi will be China's representatives at the Tokyo Games starting in July. The qualification ends on April 26.

Meanwhile, Danish shuttler Hans-Kristian Vittinghus has called on the world governing body to follow the example of other sports and suspend international tournaments because of the pandemic.

Several events have been impacted but the Badminton World Federation has said it will not make adjustments to the Olympic qualification period.

"I honestly don't get it," the 34-year-old Vittinghus said on Twitter. "The ATP Tour is suspended for six weeks, the NBA season is on hold, football leagues in several countries are postponing matches... but the international badminton circuit keeps going?

"In international badminton we just stopped shaking hands... how does this make sense? Why are we so special that we should keep on going?"

XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2020, with the headline 'Unheralded Lee in All England semis'. Print Edition | Subscribe