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Loh Kean Yew loses in Thailand Masters final

The excruciating wait for a follow-up success to Loh Kean Yew’s 2021 badminton world title continues.

On Feb 4, he lost 21-16, 6-21, 21-16 to Taiwanese world No. 14 Chou Tien-chen in the men’s singles final of the US$210,000 (S$282,000) Thailand Masters at the Nimibutr Stadium in Bangkok.

Loh said: “Although I didn’t win, I’m still happy that I managed to reach the finals. I’ve been working on some minor changes and the coaches and I are glad to see improvements.

“There are still some stuff lacking, and through this loss we learn again, we keep improving, and hopefully we’ll get better.”

In the earlier rounds, the Singaporean world No. 12 and second seed had beaten lower-ranked opponents in straight games. They were Chinese Taipei’s world No. 54 Huang Yu-kai, Israel’s Misha Zilberman (No. 45), Japan’s Takuma Obayashi (No. 31) and another Taiwanese, Su Li-yang (No. 33).

But Chou, who was tied 3-3 in his head-to-head record with Loh, is a different calibre. The former world No. 2 survived deciders against compatriots Wang Po-wei and Lin Chun-yi in the last 16 and quarter-final respectively.

Besides his impressive stamina, the 34-year-old also has a strong all-round game where he rallies to find openings to finish off his formidable smashes.

Playing against the drift, Chou executed his game plan and elicited unforced errors from Loh to claim the first game.

The tide turned with the change of ends in the second game, as Loh played an almost flawless net game, while Chou conserved energy for the decider.

Loh, who won his first BWF World Tour title at this event by beating Chinese great Lin Dan in the 2019 final, led early in the third game, firing sizzling winners almost at will.

But it all went downhill for the 26-year-old after he smashed into the net to give Chou a 9-8 lead.

Trailing 13-16, Loh rushed a net winner which was ruled a foul by the umpire. Instead of a two-point deficit, he was down 13-17.

That moment perhaps played on his mind as he was hesitant on another point later and could not build any momentum.

He saved one match point, and on the second, retrieved four smashes from Chou but not the fifth, losing his fifth successive final since becoming world champion.

Loh earned US$7,980 in prize money but the wait goes on for a third World Tour title.