PETALING JAYA: Lee Zii Jia looked to be on the road to one of his biggest paycheques and the best present for his 22nd birthday a fortnight away.

But he could not sustain his brilliant start and fell just short, losing 21-17, 13-21, 19-21 to former world champion Viktor Axelsen in the semi-final of the All-England badminton championships.

The national men’s singles ace produced one of his best ever performances but unfortunately, could not translate that into a surprise triumph on his debut to become only the seventh Malaysian to reach the men’s singles final in the Open era of the All-England.

It all boiled down to one costly error in the crucial stages.

At 19-19, Zii Jia thought he had clinched the match point with his trademark net kill but, to his surprise, the umpire ruled it as a foul.

Zii Jia was deemed to have hit the shuttlecock before it crossed to his side of the court.

The setback hit Zii Jia’s hard as Axelsen sealed the rubber 21-19 to advance into his second straight final.

Zii Jia had his chances in the rubber but he failed to capitalise on his early advantage at 4-0 and 10-7.

The only other Malaysians to have featured in the final since 1980 were his former coach Datuk Misbun Sidek, Foo Kok Keong, Rashid Sidek, Ong Ewe Hock, Mohd Hafiz Hashim and Lee Chong Wei.

Of the six, only Chong Wei and Hafiz have emerged champions, winning four and one titles respectively.

Nonetheless, Zii Jia can still walk tall for reaching the last four in his first attempt.

The unseeded player gunned down sixth seed Jonatan Christie and third seed and Olympic champion Chen Long, without dropping a single game prior to his defeat to Axelsen.

Zii Jia described his campaign as “eye opening.”

“Overall, it has been an eye opening experience for me this week, despite my loss,” he said.

“Viktor and I fought well through out the match, and anyone of us could have won.

“Moving forward, I still need to work on my nerves and have stronger determination at crucial moments. I need to stay focused, keep myself on track.”

Men’s singles head coach Hendrawan said he could not fault Zii Jia for his brilliant effort.

“Zii Jia has given his best. The umpire’s ruling is part of the game, it can go either way but he must remain positive and keep improving and we will try harder next time,” said Hendrawan.

“Zii Jia still has a long way to go but he is on the right track. We need to keep motivating him.”

National team coaching director Wong Choong Hann hopes Zii Jia’s outstanding debut could inspire his other teammates to dream big.

“Zii Jia played consistently throughout the week and it’s pleasant to see,” said Choong Hann.

“He has improved so much and remain composed in the high intensity match. His decision-making is also very good.”

All copyrights for this article are reserved to The Star