SINGAPORE - Loh Kean Yew's badminton world championship title defence ended on Friday (Aug 26) after he lost 21-12, 17-21, 21-8 to Thailand's Kunlavut Vitidsarn at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Japan.
After the quarter-final, the 25-year-old said: "I gave my best, I gave my all, but I couldn't win.
"I have no regrets because I gave everything on the court. He was more ready for the third game to control the pace and that's something I need to work on.
"Overall, I have been playing the best I can. I think I did okay to overcome some mental barriers and play more freely, I'm satisfied with my performance, but definitely there's a lot more to improve on."
World No. 17 Kunlavut, world youth champion from 2017 to 2019, will face China's 23rd-ranked Zhao Junpeng for a place in the final.
The other semi-final will be between Denmark's Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen and Taiwanese world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen.
Kunlavut, 21, had beaten eighth-ranked Loh in the SEA Games men's singles final in May, and on Friday, he again used his world-class defensive ability to pressure the defending champion into committing numerous unforced errors.
The Thai's cat-like reflexes and comprehensive court coverage make him hard to beat, which meant Loh had to be precise and patient. However, in the Singaporean's attempts to play the shuttle out of Kunlavut's reach in the first game, he sent numerous shots just long or wide.
With his tournament life on the line, Loh unleashed his full repertoire of attacking shots and combinations to roar to a 17-6 lead in the second game. And even then, Kunlavut made life difficult for his opponent by saving five game points before conceding.
In the decider, Kunlavut repelled Loh's smashes and wore his rival out with long rallies - one of which lasted for 59 shots - for the win.
National singles coach Kelvin Ho said: “We analysed and identified Kunlavut’s playing style. Because the shuttle tends to move slower here, we planned to go with Kean Yew’s speed and combinations to apply pressure.
“In the first game, we lost out on unforced errors on a number of smashes. In the second game, Kean Yew’s combinations were better as he was able to pre-empt the opponent’s returns.
“Both players were tired in the decider, but a slow game is more advantageous to Kunlavut’s defensive style. On top of not being easy to kill, he also had good shot quality and was more precise.”
Despite the defeat, it has to be put into perspective that no Singaporean had ever gone past the quarter-final stage at the world championships before Loh did last year.
In what has been the crowning glory of his badminton career so far, he stunned Axelsen in the first round before going all the way to claim the men’s singles title in Huelva, Spain then.
While he has not added to his eight international titles since and admitted to a continuous struggle for form, Loh has surged to a career high in the world rankings. He has also made it to the India Open and SEA Games finals, as well as semi-finals at the Indonesia Masters and Singapore Open.
But Ho feels that Loh is nearing his best again ahead of his next competition, the Aug 30-Sept 4 Japan Open where he faces Zhao in the opening round.
Ho added: “Overall, I think Kean Yew has played very well at this tournament. He looks to have found his confidence and fire again. He is clear when he has to adapt during matches and this is a good mentality going forward.
“I don’t think he has any fitness issues. His style is to attack, which can be exhausting, so what we need to work on with him is his shot quality and decision making to help him become more efficient and complete while maintaining his speed and power.”