SINGAPORE - National badminton player Loh Kean Yew claimed the biggest win of his career at the Badminton World Federation World Championships on Sunday (Dec 19), when he defeated India's world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the final in Spain to become Singapore's first badminton world champion.
Loh, 24, has enjoyed an incredible rise in recent months.
In November, he captured the biggest title of his career after his opponent, Malaysia's world No. 8 Lee Zii Jia, retired from the US$320,000 (S$432,000) Hylo Open in Germany, a BWF World Tour Super 500 event.
He then made it to the Super 1000 Indonesia Open final later that month and lost in three games to Denmark's Viktor Axelsen.
Following his exploits, Loh's ranking soared to 20th for the first time. He is now 22nd and is expected to move up the table after his exploits in Spain.
1. Three titles since July
In the four European tournaments he has taken part in since the Olympics in July, he has captured two titles, including the win at the Hylo Open, which was his first triumph at the BWF's World Tour Super 500 level.
The first was at the US$15,000 (S$20,250) Oct 13-17 Dutch Open, where he upset India's world No. 21 Lakshya Sen, the top seed and defending champion, 21-12, 21-16 in the final.
But Sunday's triumph at the World Championships is the biggest of his career, as he also upset world No.1 and Olympic champion Axelsen en route to the title.
2. Most memorable moment came in 2019
Before the World Championships, Loh's most memorable achievement came in 2019 when, as an unheralded qualifier, he sensationally defeated Chinese great Lin Dan to claim the US$150,000 Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters in Bangkok.
The Chinese, who retired in 2020 at the age of 37, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the sport. He is a two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion.
3. He was born in Malaysia
Loh was born on June 26, 1997, in Penang, Malaysia, and is the youngest of four sons. His parents are still living in Penang and affectionately call him Kelvin.
4. Older brother also plays badminton
His older brother Kean Hean, who also represents Singapore on the badminton circuit and is a doubles specialist, had arrived in Singapore in 2009, enrolling at Montfort Secondary School.
5. Kean Yew arrived in S'pore in 2010
Kean Yew arrived a year later at age 13 after receiving a scholarship from the Singapore Sports School. He was not thrilled about the transition initially.
"When the time came for me to move here, I was angry because my friends were all in Malaysia. But my mother already bought the ticket to send me here, so what to do?," he told The Straits Times.
"So slowly, I started to make friends and adapt to life here."
6. Badminton as a profession
He quit his studies at Republic Polytechnic to pursue a professional career in badminton.
7. Honoured to wear the Singapore flag
He and Kean Hean later became Singapore citizens, with Kean Yew saying: "I have had no regrets. After spending so many years training and developing in Singapore, I made many new friends and was ready to be a Singapore citizen, serve national service (NS) and represent this country.
"I am honoured to wear the Singapore flag on my chest."
But NS was not without its challenges and he noted that "sometimes my 'feel' will be gone'". Kean Hean later revealed that Kean Yew would rush to extra night training sessions after booking out from the army camp to train when he could.
8. Five SEA Games medals
He owns five SEA Games medals. One individual silver from the 2019 edition, where he lost the final to Malaysia's Lee, and four bronzes: individual (2015), team (2015, 2017, 2019).
9. Hard work is non-negotiable
In Loh's book, hard work is non-negotiable. He trains six days or 30 hours a week, with double sessions on four days which include court, gym sessions and runs. During competitions, he also devotes time analysing opponents, trying to find weaknesses to exploit.
He explained: "There are players in the top 10 who don't have much talent but are there because they have discipline, grit and consistency; there are other more talented players who are not there for various reasons. There are too many good players out there regardless of their rankings and I cannot be complacent."
10. Social media followers
His Instagram followers almost doubled to more than 110,000 after his win in Germany and he has over 5,600 on Facebook. Those numbers have since gone up to 168,000 for Instagram and 13,000 for Facebook since the World Championships.