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Loh Kean Yew’s revival a ‘great base’ for Paris 2024, says SBA official

National shuttler Loh Kean Yew’s resurgent form at the Denmark Open was always on the cards, said Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) technical director Martin Andrew, who added that the world No. 5 player has benefited from a good period of training and short breaks from competition in the second half of 2022.

On Friday, Loh ended world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen’s men’s singles record run of 39 straight wins in stunning fashion by romping to a 21-17, 21-10 win in just 30 minutes in the quarter-finals of the US$750,000 (S$1.06 million) tournament in Odense. He faces childhood rival, Malaysia’s third-ranked Lee Zii Jia, in their semi-final on Saturday.

The 25-year-old Singaporean had struggled for form and consistency since winning a historic World Championship last December but Andrew, a former Australia and New Zealand national coach, said he was not surprised Loh has been able to recapture his verve in Denmark.

“He has been performing well throughout but fluctuating a bit in matches,” said Andrew. “It is so tough at the top of this sport (and) his level is up there with the best in the world.”

In Odense, Loh also beat world No. 36 Thai Sitthikom Thammasin and India’s world No. 11 Srikanth Kidambi before he faced newly crowned world champion Axelsen. Andrew noted that the Singaporean has been “moving well, moving fast and making good shot choices”.

This, he added, was down to a much-needed break from competition for about six weeks after his exit from the Japan Open round of 16 on Sept 1. This gave Loh some respite from the grind of games, and an opportunity to focus on quality training.

Said the Briton: “The training period has given an opportunity to work on some areas, have a clear focus and start to prepare for the current tournaments.

“The Denmark Open is just one tournament in a run again so we will continue to see how things go, but it’s a strong positive start.”

Asked what areas of Loh’s game they worked on, Andrew said the coaching staff at SBA have worked on gameplans, shot-making choices and quality, as well as speed of movement. He added that this had been an ongoing process since after the Commonwealth Games, where Loh exited in the quarter-final stage in early August.

“We cannot sit still while other players get better,” said Andrew. “The focus is on his development areas but also help his strengths.”

Regardless of how far Loh ends up in Odense, Andrew stressed that the long-term plan for the Singaporean is aimed “towards the 2024 Olympic Games and gradual improvements to that point”.

Saying that Loh presently has a “great base” to work from, he added: “We are currently discussing the targets for 2023 and where we want his game to get to... (so as) to enable a good seeding position in the 2024 Olympics. He can do it.”

Prior to Friday’s match, Axelsen had lost just once in 43 matches in 2022, when he was defeated by India’s Lakshya Sen in the German Open semi-finals in March.

Since then, the 28-year-old Dane had been in near-invincible form, as he surpassed Chinese legend Lin Dan’s run of 31 consecutive wins en route to six titles, including his second World Championships and All England Open crowns.

Loh and Axelsen are close friends and started training together with other players in Dubai in September 2021 on Axelsen’s invitation, before repeating the arrangement before the Denmark Open. The Singaporean shuttler had also trained in Brondby with the Danish national team ahead of the tournament.  

After defeating his pal, Loh told ST: “Beating Viktor now is an achievement in itself because he is on another level. But nobody wins all the time, and he is also human, and a respectable one too.”

The other semi-final at the US$750,000 (S$1.06 million) Denmark Open will be contested by Japan’s world No. 24 Kodai Naraoka and China’s 44th-ranked Shi Yuqi.

- Additional reporting by David Lee