A young Malaysian side shorn of legend Lee Chong Wei battled to defeat against powerful hosts China on the opening day of the Sudirman Cup on Sunday. Lee is one of the finest badminton players of all time but his career appears to be nearing a sad conclusion after he was diagnosed last year with early-stage nose cancer. The 36-year-old former world number one's absence is a severe blow to Malaysia's hopes of making an impact at the Sudirman Cup, the world mixed team championships.
In his place, Lee Zii Jia, aged 21, faced China's world number two Shi Yuqi with Malaysia already trailing 2-0 to the hosts in the city of Nanning. Shi was an easy 21-12, 21-11 winner in 35 minutes and China ran out 5-0 victors in the tie. But the Chinese, who along with top-seeded Japan are the favorites, did not have it all their own way against the brave Malaysians.
Soniia Cheah ranked 34 in the world, pushed third-ranked Chen Yufei to three games. The men's doubles also went to a deciding game with Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen saving match point for the Chinese. Prior to their daunting opener, Lee Chong Wei issued a rallying call to his countrymen.
"Play out the last bit of your sweat. Play for your pride, your team-mates, your family and the flag you wear at your chest," he wrote on Instagram.
Only three countries have ever lifted the Sudirman Cup since it began in 1989 -- 10-time winners China, holders South Korea and Indonesia. Indonesia began their campaign with a 4-1 win over England. South Korea and Japan -- the latter looking to win the Cup for the first time -- launch their tournaments on Monday. The Koreans stunned China two years ago on Australia's Gold Coast to win the prestigious tournament, which is held every other year and this time involves 32 teams.