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Lee Zii Jia knocks Loh Kean Yew out of All England Open

The much-awaited Causeway derby between Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew and Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia in the All England Open men’s singles round of 16 turned out to be a damp squib as the latter extended his superior head-to-head record to 7-2.

In the largely one-sided affair at Birmingham’s Utilita Arena on March 14, world No. 10 Lee was in control as he charged to a 21-15, 21-12 win in 33 minutes.

Loh, 26, said: “It was a disappointing performance. I couldn’t control the speed of the shuttle and I didn’t dare to move after slipping on the court, while Zii Jia did well to control the match and exerted great pressure throughout.”

With a beautiful blend of power and deception, 2021 All England Open champion Lee raced to a 8-0 lead in the opener and never looked back against an opponent who had never made it past the first round until he beat Hong Kong’s Angus Ng on March 13.

The 11th-ranked Loh looked out of sorts and never quite hit the top speeds he is capable of. While he did well to close the gap to 18-14 with a few outright winners and pushes to the back court after the gap had widened to 17-7, he also had few answers to Lee’s 400kmh smashes and solid defence.

It was the same story in the second game as the 25-year-old Lee kept his foot on the pedal while Loh racked up the unforced errors despite trying to shake off the rust and nerves by bouncing on the court.

There were rarely any rallies as Lee quickly killed off the match for a fourth straight win over Loh to set up a quarter-final against Lakshya Sen, the 2022 Commonwealth Games champion. The Indian had beaten Denmark’s Anders Antonsen 24-22, 11-21, 21-14.

Lee, who lost in the first round of French Open to Denmark’s world No. 33 Magnus Johannesen, said he was motivated by that surprise defeat.

“Last week was disappointing. I discussed with my coach (Wong Tat Meng) to see what we can improve,” he said.

“I wanted to try to regain my confidence. Everything seems to be going well at the moment.”

He was sympathetic towards Penang-born Loh, who he has known since their days in the national junior circuit in Malaysia.

“I think Kean Yew and me both have something in common. When we’re at our best, we can beat anyone, but it’s the opposite when we’re not,” said Lee.

“That’s what we saw from him today, he was clearly not at his best. He committed so many unforced errors.”

National singles coach Kelvin Ho felt that Loh had suffered from “overthinking” about the match, which distracted him from executing his game plan.

He said: “Kean Yew struggled to gather the energy and focus on what he needed to do to perform well. His form was good in the previous round but it wasn’t strong enough today.

“Recently, there have been some high-level performances as he reached the French Open quarter-final, so we need to work to bring these together consistently.

“We know he can perform at a high level in line with the best in the world, we just need to keep working to find it at a good level of consistency.”

There was more bad news for Singapore in the mixed doubles as world No. 21 duo Terry Hee and Jessica Tan lost 21-14, 21-15 to South Korea’s world No. 7 pairing Kim Won-ho and Jeong Na-eun.

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