Badminton: Loh Kean Yew plays his own game for surprise title in Malaysia

Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew emerged victorious in Putrajaya in the Malaysia International Series, beating 11th seed Cheam June Wei 21-19, 21-14 in the final yesterday.
Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew emerged victorious in Putrajaya in the Malaysia International Series, beating 11th seed Cheam June Wei 21-19, 21-14 in the final yesterday.PHOTO COURTESY OF SINGAPORE BADMINTON ASSOCIATION

Training mainly on weekends during NS, S'pore shuttler gets boost before SEA Games

Unseeded Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew surprised many, including himself, as he claimed the Malaysia International Series title yesterday in Putrajaya.

The world No. 307 defeated Penang native and 11th seed Cheam June Wei 21-19, 21-14 in just 33 minutes in the men's singles final.

"Honestly, I didn't have enough preparation, so I wasn't very confident," said the 20-year-old Loh, who is currently serving his National Service.

"I mostly get to train only on weekends, although as the competition drew nearer I began to do my own training quite a bit."

His lowly rank belied his pedigree during his giant-killing charge to the title, dispatching a slew of seeded opponents in the process, including world No. 148 Cheam and world no. 136 Tan Jia Wei of Malaysia in the semi-finals.

This was Loh's first title since the Singapore International Series in 2014. "It's been a long time since I last played (competitively), so I didn't have any pressure and could play my own game. That was quite a big factor," said Loh, the 2015 SEA Games singles bronze medallist.

He had been similarly unheralded at the 2015 Singapore Games where he finished joint third alongside Thai Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk.

Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew emerged victorious in Putrajaya in the Malaysia International Series, beating 11th seed Cheam June Wei 21-19, 21-14 in the final yesterday.
Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew emerged victorious in Putrajaya in the Malaysia International Series, beating 11th seed Cheam June Wei 21-19, 21-14 in the final yesterday. PHOTO COURTESY OF SINGAPORE BADMINTON ASSOCIATION

He claimed the scalp of then world No. 28 Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam in the round of 16 before falling to eventual silver medallist Mohamad Arif Abdul Latif of Malaysia in the semi-finals.

Yesterday's win by Loh nonetheless came as a pleasant surprise to the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA).

"It's only recently that Kean Yew has managed to come out for training so there was no expectation of him," said SBA chief coach Chua Yong Joo.

"Even though this was not a big tournament there were still a lot of good players in the draw and he performed well in this position to win the title."

The Malaysia International Series, classified as the fourth level of Badminton World Federation events, was the last chance for Loh to get much-needed competitive experience before next month's SEA Games.

Singapore won four bronze medals at the last edition on home soil and the team have seen a number of experienced national players retire, including two-time Olympian Derek Wong.

Said Loh: "Certainly, I feel more confident of my chances (after this win). I don't want to put unnecessary pressure on myself, but my goal is to do better than how I did in the previous SEA Games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Loh plays own game for surprise victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe