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Loh Kean Yew eyes first title since 2021 World C'ships

He sealed his place in the Madrid Spain Masters men’s singles final with a well-concealed drop shot that bamboozled his opponent.

But, with an outstretched left fist and satisfied smile, there was no disguising Loh Kean Yew’s emotions after he beat world No. 24 Taiwanese Wang Tzu-wei 21-13, 8-21, 21-15 on March 30.

On March 31, he will take on 25th-ranked Toma Junior Popov of France, who beat Chinese Taipei’s 15th-ranked Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen 21-15, 20-22, 21-18 in the other semi-final, at the Centro Deportivo Municipal Gallur.

Popov was not done for the day. He and his younger brother Christo, who lost to Loh in the singles round of 16, were scheduled to play in the men’s doubles semi-final against Malaysians Junaidi Arif and Yap Roy King. That result was unavailable at press time.

Regardless, world No. 11 Loh, seeking to end a 27-month title drought, was taking nothing for granted. The Singaporean said: “The final will be a tough battle and I will have to prepare myself to the fullest.”

The win over Wang, his fourth in five encounters, typified his rollercoaster season in which he has had three early-round exits, two quarter-final finishes and two final appearances.

It has also been the theme of his European swing in the past month. After being runner-up at the Thailand Masters, he made the last eight of the French Open – only to be knocked out of the second and first rounds of the All England Open and Swiss Open respectively.

Against Wang, who is equally adept at the net and has deceptive cross-court smashes, Loh was sharp. He frequently found the lines and was able to elicit unforced errors from his opponent in the opener.

But, just as quickly, he lost control in the second game and was reduced to just eight points by a rival who has beaten Denmark’s world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen this season.

Loh, 26, was able to regroup and unleash smashes that reached 455kmh. While rallies were generally short, a key point came in the decider when he played a delicate drop shot despite slipping at the end of a 21-shot exchange to make it 13-8.

He admitted: “I lost focus in the second game, which allowed my opponent to gain confidence. But I’m glad I was able to regain focus and fight back in the third game.”

His last tournament success was at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Huelva, Spain, in December 2021, while his last BWF World Tour title was at the Hylo Open in Germany in the preceding month.

Going by their head-to-head record, Loh has a great chance to claim his third BWF World Tour title as he is unbeaten against the 25-year-old Popov in four meetings.

National singles head coach Kelvin Ho said: “Against Wang Tzu-wei, both players were quick in the front court, and the key was in the follow-up from their shots.

“Kean Yew did well in the first game but there was a noticeable lack of readiness in the second game and his gameplay became quite passive.

“I reminded him to focus on his process and manage his thoughts effectively to improve his performance. Once he sets his mind to focus on maintaining a high level of readiness, we can correctly work on the process.

“It is crucial to establish the basics of being ready and maintaining a high level of fighting spirit as we go into the final.”