Loh Kean Yew bows out of China Open after q-final defeat by world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen
At the end of an enthralling badminton match between two former world champions, Viktor Axelsen’s racket string broke.
But so did Loh Kean Yew’s resolve while his backhand return went into the net as the 26-year-old lost 21-17, 23-21 in the quarter-finals of the US$2 million (S$2.73 million) China Open on Friday.
Denmark’s world No. 1 Axelsen will face Indonesia’s ninth-ranked Jonatan Christie in Saturday’s semi-finals at the Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Changzhou, hoping to make it to a sixth final in 2023, while Loh exits with a US$11,000 consolation.
The other semi-final will be between China’s Shi Yuqi and Lu Guangzu.
The world’s top-four women’s singles players all advanced to the last four, with South Korea’s world No. 1 An Se-young meeting Chinese Taipei’s fourth-ranked Tai Tzu-ying and Japan’s world No. 2 Akane Yamaguchi taking on China’s third-ranked Chen Yufei.
Turning his sights to the Sept 12-17 Hong Kong Open and Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games, Loh said: “I gave it my all tonight against the best in the business. I had my chances, but couldn’t convert some of them.
“Of course, I wish the result was different, but I have no regrets about my effort and performance. I can see the positives in terms of my consistency this week, and I hope I can keep this up for the upcoming tournaments.”
Olympic champion Axelsen needed to be at his best to see off his buddy and world No. 8 Loh, who knows the 29-year-old’s game better than most after being part of his Dubai training camp since 2021.
Standing at 1.94m, the Dane has a large wingspan to match his speed, which the 2022 world champion uses to negate the most powerful smashes. Any lifts to the mid-court, on the other hand, would be gobbled up by Axelsen.
As such, 2021 world champion Loh pulled every trick out of his bag to create winners, and these included some crafty net shots as the high-quality exchanges drew gasps of amazement from the fans.
Both players were neck and neck in the opener, but Axelsen raced away from 7-7 following some loose shots from Loh. The latter showed great spirit to fight back from 9-16 down, and closed the gap to two points, but lost the game after a deception shot went wide.
Fighting for his tournament life, Loh remained patient in the second game as it became clear net play was his best bet to force a decider and, when he was able to dictate the pace, Loh caused Axelsen to make unforced errors and poor judgment.
In a see-saw game, Loh led 5-2, trailed 10-13, but came back to lead 19-17. At one point, it seemed like Axelsen had lost his cool as he protested a line judge call that handed Loh a 17-16 advantage.
But it was the big man for the big occasion who prevailed in dramatic fashion on his third match point.
National singles head coach Kelvin Ho was happy with Loh’s performances, which included wins over Frenchman Christo Popov and Denmark’s Anders Antonsen.
He said: “Kean Yew was slightly passive and just lacked that bit of initiative at crucial moments today, but he played well at this tournament overall. He was able to execute what we trained for in Singapore.
“There was a good improvement in terms of his mental preparation and processes on court, which we want to keep up moving forward.”