Loh Kean Yew was left to rue his inability to convert his only match point, as Malaysia’s Asian champion Lee Zii Jia extended his winning record against the Singaporean world champion to 6-2 with a hard-fought 21-18, 16-21, 22-20 win in their Indonesia Open men’s singles quarter-final on Friday (June 17).
In the 65-minute thriller, both players took turns to go on mini-runs in the latest instalment of the rivalry between two 24-year-olds, who were both junior players growing up in Malaysia before Loh moved to Singapore as a 13-year-old.
“All three games were played at a high intensity. Whoever handles the crucial moments better will win, and today he did this better,” said Loh.
“There is no such thing as ‘I should have won’ until the match is actually won. I’m satisfied with my overall performance but I still need to handle the key moments better.”
Despite struggling with the drift, world No. 5 Lee seized the initiative early on, but Loh managed to keep pace and entered the interval with an 11-9 advantage.
The Singaporean was still leading 17-16 when Lee mounted his comeback, which was virtually sealed by two superb full-stretch saves to make it 20-18, before requiring just one game point to take the opener.
The second game followed a similar vein, although it was world No. 9 Loh who made the stronger start this time as he raced to a 4-0 lead with the boisterous Istora Senayan crowd chanting his name.
Lee caught up at 6-6 and 11-11, but paid the price for his all-out attack with several of his smashes going wide as Loh forced a decider.
They were again neck and neck in the rubber game, with Loh looking like he would overcome a few net cords that went against him as he came from behind to lead 20-19.
But his familiar foe capitalised on his hastiness at match point, before an angled drop shot sealed victory. In the semi-finals, Lee will meet Denmark’s world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, who defeated Indonesia’s sixth-ranked Anthony Ginting 21-13, 19-21, 21-9.
Loh will pick up US$6,600 (S$9,180) in prize money and turn his sights to the June 28-July 3 Malaysia Open.
National singles coach Kelvin Ho said: “Both players were very complete today, attacking and defending well. It was a matter of who made the most unforced errors.
“Kean Yew was too rushed at match point and not ready enough for the drop shot. We will continue to work on his shot stability and how to keep opponents under pressure in high-intensity situations.”