Badminton: Kids meet Loh Kean Yew, world champ and impromptu maths tutor

Badminton star Loh Kean Yew (in red) interacts with kids at the Singapore Badminton Hall on July 9, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - On a hot, sweaty morning at the Singapore Badminton Hall on Saturday (July 9), badminton star Loh Kean Yew was perspiring as he chatted with a group of kids at a coaching clinic. Not once during the hour he was there, did he not wear his trademark smile.

Reigning world champion Loh, who will take part in the July 12-17 Singapore Badminton Open, said he relished the break from his training schedule to enjoy the "unique experience" of meeting the children, aged between seven and 18.

The 26 young fans were from the Singapore Red Cross' Young Hearts programme, which gives children and adolescents from challenging backgrounds a safe haven for learning through tuition, holiday programmes and mentorship.

The clinic was organised by HSBC, which has been the title sponsor of the Badminton World Federation World Tour since 2018. The Singapore Open is one of 25 stops on the international circuit.

Loh, who shot to fame after his world title win last December, is still easing into his new role. The 25-year-old told The Straits Times: "I'm still kind of still getting used to it. But I also always try to be a good role model as much as I can.

"Nobody is perfect, but I hope that when these kids look at me they can at least see the good in me and be inspired to strive to be better and work hard for whatever they dream of, even if it is not badminton."

Aside from Loh, former national shuttler and two-time Olympian Derek Wong was also among those who took the kids through simple drills and gave them tips on how to improve their game.

The children also peppered Loh with queries during a question and answer session, including how to be a better player. One cheeky fan even asked Loh, "can you help me with my maths homework?", which left the shuttler in stitches.

Wong Kee Joo, chief executive officer of HSBC Singapore, said that organising the clinic was "extremely gratifying".

He said: "A lot of our purpose is really to help people capture opportunities, and for us, it was (a question of) how we can help the youth to be inspired by Kean Yew, who has through hard work and focus, become a world champion."

After an afternoon of badminton and banter, Loh heads into the US$370,000 (S$5171,00) Singapore Open at the indoor stadium looking to be crowned the first local men's singles champion in 60 years.

Loh's path to the title has been made easier by the withdrawals of Denmark's world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, as well as Axelsen's compatriots Anders Antonsen (world No. 3) and Rasmus Gemke (No. 12), who are injured. Japanese Kento Momota (No. 2) and Malaysian Lee Zii Jia (No. 5) have decided to focus on the Aug 21-28 World Championships, while Indian Lakshya Sen (No. 10) is preparing for the July 28-Aug 8 Commonwealth Games instead.

The children peppered Loh with queries during a question and answer session, including how to be a better player. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

But a number of top players still remain in the competition. Among those set to challenge world No. 9 Loh include Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen (No. 4), Indonesians Anthony Ginting (No. 6) and Jonatan Christie (No. 8), as well as Thailand's Kunlavut Vitidsarn (No. 18), who beat him in the SEA Games final in Hanoi in May.

Loh will begin his campaign with a first-round match against France's Brice Leverdez on Wednesday. The Singaporean said his focus since the SEA Games has been to juggle rest with training loads and competition.

"After the SEA Games I rested, and then played three more competitions... and then I skipped the Malaysia Masters (this week) to prepare for the Singapore Open," he explained.

"So I feel a bit rested, but I'm also trying to maintain my standard and fitness levels... Hopefully I can perform well next week."

Back after a hiatus of three years owing to the pandemic, the Singapore Open saw another late withdrawal on Saturday with China's world No. 3 and Olympic champion Chen Yufei pulling out of the women's singles citing scheduling issues.

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