Malaysian badminton ace Lee Zii Jia, ranked seventh in the world, has quit his country’s national team to play as an independent, reports said Thursday.

Lee has been held up as the heir to Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei, rising rapidly up the rankings and scoring a breakthrough victory at the prestigious All England Open last year.

But the 23-year-old has performed poorly in recent months. He lost to China’s Chen Long at the Olympics and retired with an injury in the world championship quarter-finals.

After weeks of speculation, Badminton Association of Malaysia president Norza Zakaria confirmed that Malaysia’s top player had quit the body earlier this month.

“We see Zii Jia as an asset and we tried to persuade him (to stay) because we have groomed him since he was 13,” he was cited as saying by The Star newspaper.

“Now that he has reached this stage, winning the All England, we certainly didn’t want to lose him because he has a bright future.”

“However, he told us that he’s no Lee Chong Wei and he cannot cope with the pressure,” added Norza.

BAM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

It was not clear why Lee cut ties with the body, and there was no immediate comment from the player, but he could face sanctions.

Previously, BAM banned Tan Chun Seang from playing in Asian countries for two years after he quit the national team.

However world number one Viktor Axelsen of Denmark voiced support for Lee’s decision.

“If a player... feels it’s best for him to follow another path where he is more independent as a player, then that is what he should do,” tweeted the Olympic gold medallist.

“It’s his career and his life after all.”

Badminton is one of the few sports in which Malaysia performs well internationally.

Three-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei, who retired in 2019, was one of the greatest players of his generation.

Update: On Friday, Axelesen spoke up on Twitter once again. “Imagine yourself being in a position where you don’t feel happy in your current workplace and you want something to change. You go express your thoughts to your boss and tell her/him you want to quit and find another place to work,” he tweeted.