Badminton: Loh Kean Yew faces tricky path in bid for back-to-back world titles

Loh Kean Yew's title defence will begin against Spanish world No. 59 Pablo Abian. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Old rivalries will be renewed at the Badminton World Championships from Aug 22 to 28 with Loh Kean Yew facing an obstacle-ridden path in Tokyo as he makes an ambitious bid for back-to-back world titles in the men's singles.

While he will not face world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in his half of the draw, defending world champion Loh could face Thailand's Kunlavut Vitidsarn - who beat him to gold at the SEA Games in May - in the quarter-finals, with India's world championships runner-up Srikanth Kidambi and Malaysian star Lee Zii Jia also in the mix.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced the draws for the tournament on Wednesday (Aug 10) and eighth seed Loh has been placed in the same half as newly crowned Commonwealth Games champion Lakshya Sen and Japanese former world No. 1 Kento Momota.

Loh's title defence will begin against Spanish world No. 59 Pablo Abian, whom he beat in their only meeting at last year's Dutch Open.

After that, the world No. 9 could face surprise Tokyo Olympics semi-finalist Kevin Cordon of Guatamala before a round-of-16 meeting against South Korean Heo Kwang-hee or 10th seed Angus Ng of Hong Kong.

His matches will only get trickier from there with a possible rematch against Kunlavut or Danish world No. 3 Anders Antonsen in the quarter-finals.

But Loh, who returned home from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games on Wednesday after a shock exit from the men's singles quarter-finals, is not thinking about the world championships yet.

He said: "For now, I just want to take a break. There's not much time to prepare but let's hope for the best.

"Everyone is a tough opponent in the world championships, I would like to focus on one match at a time."

Loh made history last year after beating Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in Huelva, Spain to become Singapore's first badminton world champion.

Since then, his form has been inconsistent. He reached the finals of the India Open and SEA Games in Hanoi but lost to Sen and Kunlavut respectively.

He reached the semi-finals in the Indonesia Masters and Singapore Open, while suffering three first-round exits this year.

At the recent Commonwealth Games, he was stunned by Malaysia's 42nd-ranked Ng Tze Yong in the top eight.

Teammates Terry Hee and Jessica Tan, who won Singapore's first Commonwealth Games gold medal in the mixed doubles, will kick off their campaign against England's Callum Hemming and Jessica Pugh in the first round.

They won their only meeting against the 46th-ranked duo at the Orleans Masters in March.

Tan, 29, said: "Every pair in the draw is out there to fight, no one can be overlooked. We will take every round as our last, give our all and hope for the best."

If the world No. 33 Hee and Tan win, they could face Japanese 12th seeds Yuki Kaneko and Misaki Matsumoto next.

SPH Brightcove Video
Badminton mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan clinched a historic gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on August 8. ST Sports Correspondent David Lee caught the pair after their win to ask some quick questions.

In the women's singles, world No. 18 Yeo Jia Min will play her first match against South Korean world No. 43 Sim Yu-jin, before a possible match-up against Thai SEA Games champion Pornpawee Chochuwong in the next round.

Yeo, 23, said: "I aim to improve on my game again and bring out my best to win more matches in Japan."

Like her compatriot Loh, Yeo, who last year became the first Singaporean to qualify and play in the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals, can expect a challenging journey in Tokyo. She is in the same half as Olympic champion Chen Yufei of China, world No. 2 Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei and Thailand's former world champion Ratchanok Intanon.

Hee will also be in action in the men's doubles with Loh Kean Hean and they will take on France's Cristo Popov and Toma Junior Popov in the first round.

Commonwealth Games men's singles semi-finalist Jason Teh will face Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands in the opening round, while women's doubles pair Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong will play Austria's Serena Au Yeong and Katharina Hochmeir.

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