Malaysia Masters: Li Busts ‘Fierce’ Toma Wall

Li Shi Feng has finally conquered Toma Junior Popov.

Coming into the match 3-0 behind in career meetings, the world No.6 cancelled one of the most peculiar head-to-heads in recent men’s singles history, at long last besting the Frenchman in the PERODUA Malaysia Masters 2024 opening round.

The win did not come easy though, Li was made to slog for 82 minutes – the longest of their four encounters – before getting his just rewards. The way Li celebrated – he took off his shirt and threw it onto the floor – showed how much it meant.

“I made my toughest preparations when facing Toma,” admitted Li after the 12-21 21-19 21-15 victory. “I feel we push ourselves harder when we play each other. Toma played well in the first game and was leading in the second. I’m just very happy to finally get a win over him.”

On why it took so long to overcome Popov – their first meeting was two years ago in the HYLO Open quarterfinals – Li said: “I think because Toma plays men’s doubles, his front court play is fierce. I had to be ready to return or kill any shuttle at the front court.

“Toma had a psychological advantage over me with three wins, his confidence must have been high so I made sure I stayed focused.”

Despite the first defeat, Popov, who has qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games in men’s singles and doubles, was satisfied with his admirable effort.

“In the last few months, I’ve put on some good performances,” said the world No.23. “I’ve shown I can contest some of the best, like Anders Antonsen and Viktor Axelsen.

“These matches only bring me closer to finding my place among the top players. I’m happy with my level and I know leading up to Paris I’m feeling confident.”

Results (Day 2)

Order of play (Day 3)


“I was supposed to play Kunlavut Vitidsarn then I found out it was Loh after Vitidsarn withdrew. My first thought was not to let him attack and try to be faster than him. I did that and I’m happy.” – Wang Tzu Wei on beating Loh Kean Yew twice in two weeks

“When I dropped the first game, I thought ‘come on, don’t lose the first round’. Especially after winning last week in Thailand. I kept encouraging myself to relax and just enjoy it. Even with a top 10 ranking, you can’t explain the nerves when you step out. But I’m happy I manage pressure the way I do.” – Lee Zii Jia after coming through a three-gamer with Zhao Jun Peng

“I had a great time on court. When I found out I was playing a Malaysian, I got goosebumps. The crowd, the noise, my shots as I’m an attacking player all came together. Loved it.” – Polina Buhrova after losing to Goh Jin Wei

Buhrova took a game off Goh.

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