Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew beats world No. 4 Naraoka, qualifies for Korea Open final
Loh Kean Yew overcame a tough challenge from Japan’s world No. 4 Kodai Naraoka on Saturday to book a spot in the final of the Korea Open, his first in this season’s Badminton World Federation World Tour.
Singapore’s world No. 8 was made to work hard for his 18-21, 21-16, 21-15 victory over a higher-ranked Naraoka in their 80-minute encounter, as he fought back from one game down to earn a title shot at the US$420,000 (S$558,000) tournament.
Loh said: “I’m happy to be in the final, I will keep on fighting and giving my all.
“I’ll just rest well and prepare myself to the fullest.”
The duo were neck and neck at the start, but with the score tied at 6-6, Naraoka pulled ahead to 14-10.
While Loh clinched the next four points to level at 14-14, unforced errors saw him lose the first game 21-18, despite saving two game points.
The start of the second game stood in stark contrast to the first, with Naraoka racing to a 12-4 lead.
But Loh dug deep to win the next four points before levelling at 15-15.
In a thrilling match punctuated by long rallies, the crucial moment came at 16-16 when Loh dived to save Naraoka’s shot before eventually winning the 30-shot rally.
There was no looking back from there, as he won the game 21-16 to force the decider.
Having just produced a remarkable comeback to rescue the second game, Loh returned to court with confidence as the crowd at the Jinnam Stadium in Yeosu chanted his name.
The 26-year-old went 4-3 up and held the lead throughout, but had to endure some nerve-racking moments as Naraoka tried to claw his way back into the contest.
In the end, the Singaporean claimed the third game 21-15 for a hard-fought victory.
National singles assistant coach Loh Wei Sheng said: “Kean Yew has performed well so far in the Korea Open. He has managed to execute what he trained for in Singapore.
“For the whole match, Kean Yew just focused on the process and didn’t think too much about the outcome.
“He showed more initiative and patience when he was 4-12 down and his fighting spirit was good.”
A win on Sunday will give Loh his first tour title since his victory at the world championships in 2021.
Since that feat, he has come close several times, but fell short in the India Open and SEA Games men’s singles finals in 2022, as well as the Asian championships in April.
A difficult period followed as he won just four out of nine matches in five tournaments before he took a month’s break to work on his game.
But to end his title drought, Loh will have to overcome 16th-ranked Anders Antonsen, after the Dane beat China’s world No. 6 Shi Yuqi 21-16, 24-22 in the other semi-final.
Their head-to-head record stands at 1-1, with Antonsen winning their last encounter at the 2022 All England Open (21-15, 18-21, 21-13).
After struggling with injuries in 2022, Antonsen has been in good form this season, posting three top-three finishes in 10 tournaments.
Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew said: “Expectations heading into the final tomorrow are for Kean Yew to maintain his patience and attack.
“He will need to be good around the front court against Anders, while he also needs to be able to cope with Anders’ attacking variation.
“Anders is a former world No. 2 prior to a few injuries, so competing against him is never easy.
“He’s had a good run of results recently so it will be a strong challenge.”