SINGAPORE - Badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew began his title defence with a 21-12, 21-12 win over Spain's Pablo Abian on Monday (Aug 22).
Despite a self-admitted struggle for form, the world No. 8 Singaporean was heavy favourite against his 58th-ranked opponent, and made his superiority count at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Japan, winning in 29 minutes.
He first had to get used to a last-minute switch to play on Court 4 instead of Court 1, and took some time to get going in both games, as he trailed 8-5 and 6-3 respectively.
But once he got over his early tentativeness, Loh's consistency was too much for the 37-year-old Abian as he went on runs of 14 and seven points respectively to seize control of the match.
The 25-year-old will meet Guatemala's world No. 41 Kevin Cordon, a Tokyo 2020 semi-finalist, in the second round on Wednesday.
He said: "I'm happy to be back in Tokyo and playing in the World Championships again, but even though it was a historic win in December, that is already history.
"(Despite the change in court), I was focused and stuck to the game plan even when I was trailing. As always, I'm taking it one match at a time and will analyse and discuss the strategy for the next match with my coach."
Loh joined other big names like Viktor Axelsen (world No. 1), Kento Momota (No. 2) and Lee Zii Jia (No. 5) in the next round. The only top-10 player to miss out was third-ranked Anders Antonsen. The Dane lost 21-15, 21-19 to Japan's 21st-ranked Kenta Nishimoto.
Loh's compatriot Jason Teh, making his tournament debut, fell 21-13, 21-14 to world No. 28 Dutchman Mark Caljouw. Teh, 86th in the world, later revealed in an Instagram post that he had torn his left ankle ligament a week ago but "thought I should still give it a go because I really wanted to compete here in Tokyo".
There was better news for Singapore in the men's doubles as world No. 41 Terry Hee and Loh Kean Hean upset 28th-ranked French brothers Christo and Toma Junior Popov 21-17, 21-18 in 34 minutes.
It was a sweet return to the court for Kean Hean, who had missed the Birmingham Commonwealth Games men's doubles event after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this month.
The 27-year-old, who lost 4kg during his recovery from the virus, said: "I was definitely hungry and fired up to return. Seeing my teammates play so well at the Games inspired me to do better in my upcoming competitions.
"Today, we were more patient, especially in the second game when we were trailing for most of the first half. We got many points from our attacking plan, so we stuck to it and thankfully we came through in the last few points."
The duo's second-round opponents on Wednesday are Malaysia's world No. 10 Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, who received a first-round bye.
Hee, 27, added: "We lost to them at the 2017 SEA Games, and they are the bronze medallists last year, so we don't really have any pressure on our side. We will just fight for every point and hope to create another upset."
He and his wife Jessica Tan also advanced to the second round of the mixed doubles event after England's Callum Hemming and Jessica Pugh withdrew.
The world No. 33 pair and Commonwealth Games champions will meet Japan's 16th-ranked Yuki Kaneko and Misaki Matsumoto, who received a first-round bye.
The Republic's world No. 80 women's doubles pair of Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong will play Austria's 109th-ranked Serena Au Yeong and Katharina Hochmeir in their first-round match on Tuesday.