On Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022, Loh became the first Singaporean men’s singles player to be ranked No. 3 in the Badminton World Federation rankings. This came just a year after his groundbreaking win at the 2021 World Championships.
A key part of Loh’s arsenal is the smash, where he hits the shuttlecock at an extreme downward angle. The smash is made up of multiple, high-precision movements which are perfectly coordinated within fractions of a second. Its precise mechanics can only be captured with specialised sensors.
As Loh tracks the shuttlecock, he ensures that his body is turned sideways. As he explains: “We want to be in position behind the shuttlecock so that we can jump forward when we hit and do a stronger smash.”
From his crouching position, Loh uses both legs to generate more power. He is able to reach an average height of 50-60cm with his leap, something he attributes to his training and also his genes. “I think my body has a certain explosive quality. Just something I was born with.”
Loh’s body is in a sideways position to begin with. As he rises, he folds in his legs to make his body more compact.
His body is coiled like a spring and is primed for the explosive rotation of his hips, torso and arm just before he hits the shuttlecock.
The force he generates initially comes from shifting the momentum generated by his hips and core into the shuttlecock.
For the smash, Loh slides his hand lower down the grip to create a longer lever. The racket is held loosely but as he smashes his fingers tighten around the grip.
As Loh makes contact with the shuttlecock at the apex of his jump, the tip of his badminton racket is close to 3.3m from the ground.
“In mid-air, there’s no time to think. For me personally, it’s just instinct… because badminton is a very fast sport.”
Height is the key as it offers Loh a chance to create a variety of angles. It also enlarges the area his rival has to defend.
The number of smashes in a game varies according to the tactics. In the first game of the 2021 BWF World Championship semi-final against Anders Antonsen, Loh hit 33 smashes of which 7 were clean winners.
But in the first game of the final against Kidambi Srikanth, a contest which was played more around the net, Loh smashed only 8 times and had 2 clean winners.
Says Loh: “The most common way to gain a point is to smash. Of course, the rest is from a rival making mistakes.”
The smash can send shuttlecocks flying at average speeds of 350-390kmh. The fastest smash in competition was recorded at 426kmh. Loh has hit smashes at over 400kmh.
“To kill your opponent with a smash, to gain a point from that, it’s pretty satisfying… The smash will show how dominant you are. If you can always kill off with a smash, it shows that you're much stronger.”
Loh’s sights are set on winning major titles and qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. In his long, but dedicated quest for greatness, the smash will feature prominently.
Behind the scenes: How we captured Loh Kean Yew’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it badminton smash
The Straits Times Digital Graphics Team experimented with 3D full-body scanning and motion capture to bring the precise mechanics of a badminton smash to your screen.