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Loh Kean Yew’s title drought continues with Korea Open final loss to Anders Antonsen

The wait goes on for Loh Kean Yew, as he continues his search for that elusive first tournament victory since winning the 2021 world title. But Singapore’s top badminton player sees this as a motivational challenge, rather than extra stress.

On Sunday, the world No. 8 lost 11-21, 21-11, 21-19 to Denmark’s 16th-ranked Anders Antonsen after 68 minutes in the US$420,000 (S$559,000) Korea Open men’s singles final at the Jinnam Stadium in Yeosu.

Fourth seed Loh did not enjoy the best of starts, falling behind at 1-5 and 4-9, but astonishingly swept 17 out of the next 19 points to take the first game. However, he could not string consecutive points in the second game as Antonsen won by the same scoreline.

In the nail-biting and “roller-coaster” rubber game, he led 7-3, trailed 8-13, and caught up to 15-15, but just could not get his nose in front again as he fell to 1-2 in his head-to-head record against Antonsen.

With such fine margins, three crucial points in the decider appeared to determine the final result.

The first came early on, when Antonsen seemed to hold his hand up after Loh was already in motion to serve, and the Dane won following the re-serve. After the interval, Loh twice had a wide open court to aim at, but smashed into the net and then wide respectively.

Looking back, he said: “I feel sad because it felt like a wasted opportunity to win a title. For the serving incident, mind games do happen, but I kept my focus.

“As for the misses, I definitely could have done better with my decision-making at some points. Today was not my day, I will learn from this experience and I hope there will be a better outcome in the next final.

“Win or lose, every final is a milestone. I felt, for the most parts of this week, I managed to apply what I trained for in terms of patience and shot consistency in my matches, which was good. Right now, I see the drought as a motivation for me to break it, not as pressure.”

While Loh missed out on his first title in 19 months, Antonsen conquered four seeded opponents to end his own 30-month title drought after struggling with a chest complaint and other injuries in the past year as the former world No. 2 slipped to 30th.

The Dane pocketed US$31,500 in prize money and 9,200 points for the Race to Paris (Olympics) ranking list, and fellow 26-year-old Loh had to be content with US$15,960 and 7,800 points.

In the other finals, China’s Feng Yanzhe and Huang Dongping beat compatriots Jiang Zhenbang and Wei Yaxin 21-16, 21-13 in the mixed doubles, while Chinese top seeds Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan outlasted home pair Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong 21-10, 17-21, 21-7 in the women’s doubles.

An Se-young did give the home crowd something to cheer about when she beat Taiwanese Tai Tzu-ying 21-9, 21-15 to retain her women’s singles crown for her sixth title in 2023. The men’s doubles final was won by India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, who beat Indonesia’s Fajar Alfian and Rian Ardianto 17-21, 21-13, 21-14.

Turning his sights to the July 25-30 Japan Open, Loh will have to take the positives from a week in which he overcame Malaysia’s 58th-ranked Leong Jun Hao, China’s 2022 World Championships bronze medallist Zhao Junpeng, Malaysia’s most in-form men’s singles player Ng Tze Yong and Japan’s top seed and world No. 4 Kodai Naraoka.

National singles assistant coach Loh Wei Sheng said: “Kean Yew mostly played well in the final, as he was fast, and showed initiative to attack. However, he made many unforced errors which cost him the match. Besides, he also had two service faults that caused him to hesitate in flick serves and affected his service quality later on.”

Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew added: “Overall, Kean Yew played well. His movement and shot quality were stable and, from that, he was able to anticipate his opponents better. He will need to maintain these, while being more patient with his shots and reducing the number of unforced errors during crucial moments.”

In Tokyo, the seventh-seeded Singaporean will meet Ng again in the first round, and it is another Causeway Derby in the women’s singles as Yeo Jia Min takes on Goh Jin Wei.

Women’s doubles duo Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong will face Taiwanese Chang Ching-hui and Yang Ching-tun, while mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan play Asian champions Jiang and Wei.

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