Singapore's Loh Kean Yew is now 5th in the world rankings
Loh Kean Yew has moved into the top five of the badminton world rankings for the first time despite not hitting a shuttlecock in an official match in the past month.
It is the first time a Singaporean men's singles player has done so. Prior to this, Ronald Susilo was the previous highest-ranked Singaporean at sixth in 2004.
In the women's singles, Zarinah Abdullah reached a high of No. 3 in 1994. Only 10 Singaporeans have ever made it to the world's top 10 across the five events - men's singles and doubles, women's singles and doubles and the mixed doubles.
In the latest rankings released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) on Tuesday, Loh moved up two positions to fifth as he replaced Japanese star Kento Momota, who dropped to seventh.
This comes as the BWF updates its world rankings and removes points earned from as far back as 2020. The points had remained as competitions were totally suspended from March to October in 2020 and many others were postponed after that during the pandemic.
Loh, who is training in Brondby with the Danish national team ahead of the Oct 18-23 Denmark Open, told The Straits Times: "It is a great honour and return for everything I have put into my career. Getting as high a ranking as possible is important as I work towards qualifying for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
"It has not been easy to get here and it won't be easy to stay here and move up, but I will continue to work hard to improve in all aspects of my game."
A high ranking will not only make it easier for him to qualify directly for the Olympics but also potentially ease his way in the draw. The 16 highest-ranked players are kept apart during the group stage at the Games. Any improvement in the rankings will also help Loh avoid others in the top four at premier events until at least the semi-finals.
As the events returned gradually in 2021, the 25-year-old Singaporean's career skyrocketed after the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Olympics, where he lost in the group stage.
Following a training stint with Danish Olympic champion and world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in Dubai, he won the lower-tier Dutch Open, the Super 500 Hylo Open in Germany, before becoming the first Singaporean to claim the World Championship in December.
Despite struggling with consistency in 2022, Loh still made the finals of the India Open and SEA Games, as well as the semi-finals of the Indonesia Masters and Singapore Open.
Three quarter-final finishes at the World Championships, Asia Championships and Indonesia Open also helped him move up the ladder, as only his 10 highest point tallies are counted in the world ranking tabulation.
He currently has 81,594 points, behind only Axelsen (122,606), Denmark's Anders Antonsen (92,700), Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia (91,578) and Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien-chen (89,576).
Singapore Badminton Association chief executive officer Alan Ow paid tribute to his star player and said: "This is a great achievement by Kean Yew and will give fellow national shuttlers belief that Singapore can be competitive on the international stage, and hopefully, future generations would be inspired.
"We know the importance of having positives in sport and hope Kean Yew can build on the momentum in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics."
Meanwhile, Loh also has his sights set on earning enough points to qualify for his first BWF World Tour Finals as one of the year's top eight performers, after narrowly missing out in 2021.
With 38,890 points earned in 2022, he is currently 11th in the Race to Guangzhou, less than 3,000 points behind China's eighth-placed Zhao Junpeng (41,320). He hopes to do enough at the remaining stops in Denmark, France, Germany and Australia to overtake his rivals. Japan's Kodai Naraoka (39,970) currently occupies the ninth spot while his old nemesis, India's Lakshya Sen (39,650), is 10th.
He said: "I had a good break from competing, and trained well with Viktor in Dubai for a week in September, as well as with the Denmark national team now.
"I want to thank everyone for their help and support in my career, and I will try my best to do well in the upcoming events."