Loh Kean Yew makes Korea Open s-finals after one-month break from competitions
A one-month break from tournaments has done Singapore’s top badminton player Loh Kean Yew a world of good, as he surged into his first semi-final in this season’s Badminton World Federation World Tour.
On Friday, the world No. 8 beat Malaysia’s 23rd-ranked Ng Tze Yong 22-20, 21-19 after a 45-minute see-saw battle to march into the last four of the US$420,000 (S$558,000) Korea Open, a third-tier Super 500 event.
The 26-year-old will face world No. 4 Kodai Naraoka on Saturday, hoping to extend his unbeaten record against the Japanese to three matches. The other semi-final will be between China’s world No. 6 Shi Yuqi and Denmark’s 16th-ranked Anders Antonsen.
At the Jinnam Stadium in Yeosu, Loh was resolute as he broke his own duck against Ng to avenge his 2022 Commonwealth Games men’s singles quarter-final loss in their only previous meeting.
Loh said: “It always feels good to go far in any tournament, and I’m happy to overcome a tough opponent in a good match. Tomorrow will be another match against a strong opponent, so it is important to prepare and rest well.”
Besides an early 400kmh smash, the 2021 world champion did not manage to use much of his lethal weapon, as Ng avoided playing lifts for Loh to exploit.
In a battle of patience and wits, it was the Malaysian who opened up a 12-8 advantage as the game revolved more around drives and net play. With both attacking players trying to find ways to gain a foothold, the lead exchanged hands several times as Loh won six straight points to make it 14-12, before Ng conjured his own five-point spell to lead 17-14.
But with some well-disguised shots and an excellent cross-court drop shot off an Ng smash, Loh never trailed again. While he needed three points to claim the first game, the winner came from a brilliant one-two punch as he followed up a smash by tapping to the back court to leave his advancing opponent stranded.
The second game followed a similar vein, with Loh’s superb athleticism and reaction helping him to stay ahead and go into the interval with a slight edge of 11-10.
With his tournament life on the line, Ng produced a remarkable variety of shots to bounce back and lead 15-12 and then 19-18.
Then came the turning point. Not only did Loh make an incredible forward-diving save, but he also turned defence into attack by playing a lift with that same shot to the back court that landed on the line to level the scores.
Ng could only produce a wry smile, a gracious thumbs-up and, after losing the next two points and the match, a warm handshake.
Loh said: “I tried to adapt to the different situations during the match. (The point to make it 19-19) was a crucial one, and I just wanted to give it my all to retrieve every shot.”
After capturing the imagination of the badminton world by winning the 2021 World Championships, Loh is still looking for a follow-up title.
He lost in the India Open and SEA Games men’s singles final in 2022, as well as the Asian Championships in April 2023.
Loh then won just four out of nine matches across five tournaments in six weeks, before skipping the Taipei, Canada and US Opens in the past month to work on his shot quality and consistency, anticipation, taking of initiative and changing of speed.
And there have been signs of improvement in his wins over Malaysia’s Leong Jun Hao (58th), China’s Zhao Junpeng (27th) and Ng.
National singles assistant coach Loh Wei Sheng said: “He has mostly done well in these areas, and the key to his victories have been his focus on the process and his execution of the strategies, on top of his speed and power.”