Badminton: Loh Kean Yew becomes first S'porean to reach World C'ships final

Loh Kean Yew celebrates after defeating Anders Antonsen of Denmark in their semi final. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Loh Kean Yew is one victory away from becoming the Republic's first badminton world champion.

On Saturday (Dec 18), he beat Denmark's world No. 3 Anders Antonsen 23-21, 21-14 in the semi-final of the Badminton World Federation World Championships in Huelva, Spain, and is assured of winning at least an unprecedented silver medal for Singapore in just his second world championships after reaching the last 16 in 2019.

In Sunday's final, he will go for a historic gold against India's 14th-ranked Kidambi Srikanth, who outlasted compatriot and world No. 19 Lakshya Sen to win 17-21, 21-14, 21-17 in 69 minutes in the other last-four clash.

The pair had met once at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with the 28-year-old winning in straight games before climbing to world No. 1 that year.

Loh said: "I'm delighted to reach my first World Championships final, but now is not the time to get carried away and overthink things. It is important to stick to my routine of recovery and preparation, and focus on executing my game plan against another tough and experienced opponent."

While Loh seemed unfazed by the magnitude of the occasion in Saturday's semi-final, Antonsen provided him with the toughest test so far in this competition, at least in the opening frame of their first meeting.

Each time the world No. 22 threatened to pull away through well-crafted points and by being quicker to the net, his fellow 24-year-old found a way to hang on with precise placements and well-disguised shots.

Six game points were squandered and it looked like Antonsen would come back from 20-15 down to steal the game, but Loh kept his nerve, managed to survive four smashes in a row at 21-21, and converted his seventh game point.

His defensive ability - to use the power from opponents' smashes back against them - started to frustrate the 2019 silver medallist, who gave away some cheap points in the second game and was warned by the umpire for shouting at Loh after winning a point.

Antonsen got as close as 12-10, but once Loh regained his flow and ruthless efficiency, there was no denying the Singaporean, who closed out the match in 61 minutes.

He said: "I was prepared for a tough match against Anders as I haven't played against him before and he is clearly a strong player.

"I was actually trying to calm myself down in the second part of the first game and not be rushed, but it turned out I slowed down too much and he increased the pace. In the end, I just tried to play good defence while trying to find an opportunity to win the game, which I eventually managed to do."

This triumph also means Loh has beaten six out of the world's top 10 players in the past three months, as he proves he truly belongs among the sport's elite now and is no flash in the pan.

At these World Championships, his fairytale run started when he stunned Denmark's world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen 14-21, 21-9, 21-6 in the opening round.

He eased past Austria's 93rd-ranked Luka Wraber 21-4, 21-8 in the second round and then Thailand's world No. 20 Kantaphon Wangcharoen 21-4, 21-7 in the last 16, before beating India's 32nd-ranked Prannoy H. S. 21-14, 21-12 in the quarter-final.

Besides capturing the Dutch Open and Hylo Open titles, he also claimed the scalps of Japan's world No. 2 Kento Momota (Indonesia Open), Chinese Taipei's world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen (Hylo Open), Malaysia's world No. 7 and All England champion Lee Zii Jia (French Open and Hylo Open) and Denmark's world No. 10 Rasmus Gemke (Hylo Open and Indonesia Open).

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