Loh Kean Yew earns morale-boosting win over world No. 3 Kodai Naraoka in Denmark Open
Bouncing back from a disappointing Asian Games campaign in which he fell at the first hurdle in the men’s badminton singles and team events, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew beat world No. 3 Kodai Naraoka 19-21, 21-6, 21-19 in the opening round of the Denmark Open on Tuesday.
Following the 80-minute match, the 26-year-old will take on 10th-ranked Anders Antonsen in the round of 16 of the US$850,000 (S$1.16 million) event on Thursday. They each have two wins, with the Dane victorious July’s Korea Open final and Loh exacting revenge in the second round of the China Open in September.
After extending his head-to-head record against World Championships silver medallist Naraoka to 4-0, Loh told The Straits Times: “This win is important for my confidence and morale, and any win is an achievement given my current form.”
Despite a spirited comeback triumph, the world No. 9 was in no mood to get ahead of himself. After all he has endured a roller-coaster year as well as questions over his form and title drought following his 2021 world title.
While he made the finals of the Asian Championships and Korea Open, he also lost in the first round in five of 13 BWF World Tour tournaments in 2023, which has put his place in the top 10 at risk.
But at the Jyske Bank Arena in Odense, Loh showed he is made of sterner stuff.
Another early exit looked to be on the cards when he let slip advantages of 14-8 and 19-16 to drop the first game, as Naraoka repelled the Singaporean’s devastating smashes.
Loh’s own response was a 21-6 blitz to claim the second game, but he had to dig deep in the decider to advance, recovering from a 15-10 deficit to remain unbeaten against Japan’s top player.
What was particularly pleasing was how he could remain patient and stick to his strategy of pulling Naraoka out of position before going for the kill, as he said: “I tried to keep a clear mind and focus on my own game plan instead of the score, and I’m happy I could do so and come out with the win.”
In the women’s singles, 21st-ranked Yeo Jia Min could not produce an upset in a tough draw against Taiwanese world No. 4 Tai Tzu-ying who won 21-11, 22-20 in 35 minutes.
National singles head coach Kelvin Ho said: “Kean Yew played calmly and controlled his choice of shots and the momentum well. He went through his processes well and was consistent throughout the match.
“We had just one week to train after returning from the Asian Games, and we are trying to help him be more clear and proactive and less predictable in his gameplay.
“As for Jia Min, she played well in the second game to match a strong opponent, but could still have adapted quicker. There were some parts where she did well to take the initiative and change the pace to pressure the opponent, and we will work on achieving more consistency with these strengths.”
Aside from Naraoka, other high-profile exits include China’s Asian Games men’s singles and team champion Li Shifeng lost 12-21, 21-6, 21-17 to Frenchman Toma Junior Popov.
His compatriots and world No. 3 men’s doubles pair Liang Weikeng and Wang Chang were also beaten 18-21, 21-19, 21-18 by home pair Rasmus Kjaer and Frederik Sogaard, while Japan’s world No. 4 women’s doubles duo Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota lost 21-15, 21-23, 21-18 to Chinese duo Li Yijng and Luo Xumin.