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Loh ends title drought with Madrid Spain Masters win

As his 18-14 lead turned into an 18-19 deficit in the decider of the Madrid Spain Masters men’s singles final, Loh Kean Yew feared the worst.

In the past 27 months, he had reached five finals, winning none. It looked like history would repeat itself against Frenchman Toma Junior Popov, who had been unbeaten in 12 singles finals at the senior level.

But the Singaporean dug deep to end his 833-day wait for a first success since his 2021 badminton world title.

Fighting tooth and nail, the world No. 11 beat his 25th-ranked opponent 21-11, 15-21, 22-20 at the Centro Deportivo Municipal Gallur on March 31 for his third Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour crown.

Loh told The Straits Times: “The thought of winning did cross my mind when I was leading 18-14 in the decider but I kept trying to push it away because it was affecting me.

“When I was down 18-19, I feared the worst but still... stayed patient in the rally for the opportunity to kill. At the final point, I was really happy and relieved to have finally won another title.”

The US$210,000 (S$283,000) Super 300 event is on the fifth tier of the BWF World Tour, below the World Tour Finals, Super 1000, Super 750 and Super 500 events.

Including major Games and lower-tier international tournaments, this is Loh’s ninth win in 20 finals.

With considerable attention on his title drought, Loh gave ST a glimpse of his mental toll, saying: “The dry spell hasn’t been easy and coach Kelvin Ho gave me an important wake-up call to improve on my fighting spirit after I lost in the first round of the Swiss Open.

“There have been times I felt really down and I don’t really know why. If I had the answers, I wouldn’t be struggling. I just kept going and trying to find ways to win. I may have ended my title drought now, but the count starts from zero again.

“It’s not just about the titles. Of course I want them, but it’s also about personal growth. Hopefully, this title gives me a confidence boost and I can build on it to be more consistent in my game play and processes.”

Singapore President Tharman Shanmugaratnam paid tribute to the champion and wrote in an Instagram post: “Competing at the top is extremely difficult. Kean Yew has managed his emotions, taken lessons from each setback, and believed in himself.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also congratulated Loh in an Instagram post, saying: “Keep up the amazing work! We are all proud of you!”

Loh and his compatriots will now prepare for the April 9-14 Badminton Asia Championships in Ningbo, China. In the first round, 2023 finalist Loh will meet Japan’s Kenta Nishimoto, while Yeo Jia Min plays Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong in the women’s singles. Mixed doubles duo Terry Hee and Jessica Tan take on Taiwanese Chang Ko-chi and Lee Chih-chen.

Coach Ho hopes that this title will give Loh “the assurance he needs regarding his capabilities”, adding: “Consistent effort and dedication will help him to stay focused on his journey to success and achieve his goals.”

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