BANGKOK – Making his debut at the Badminton World Federation World Tour Finals, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew cruised to a first win in his men’s singles Group B opener as he beat Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen 21-15, 21-17 at the Nimibutr Arena on Wednesday.
But the 25-year-old Loh insisted his victory, which levelled their head-to-head record at 3-3, was tougher than it looked.
Admitting to nerves before every match, he said: “It was quite drifty, so it wasn’t easy as everybody is trying to adapt to the court conditions... The shuttles are quite fast, which is generally good for me, but other factors also come into play when I’m up against the best players.
“So, I’m definitely happy to be on the winning side. There are still two more matches to go and anything can happen. Hopefully, things will still get better.”
While world No. 3 Loh is now well-known for his ferocious smashes, he put up an excellent all-round performance, which included gasp-inducing saves and delicate drops.
He and national singles coach Kelvin Ho analysed Chou well, as several clears and smashes were placed beyond the reach of the world No. 4, who used up his quota of two unsuccessful challenges early in the first game when trailing 6-3.
In a flash, Loh was leading 16-8, which gave him a comfortable buffer to see out the game.
The second game followed a similar vein, with Loh keeping Chou guessing with a good mix of smashes and drop shots as he built a 12-6 advantage.
Favourable net cords would help the 32-year-old narrow the gap to 15-14, but the Singaporean held his nerve to record his first win at the prestigious US$1.5 million (S$2 million) season-ender featuring only the best eight performers of the year in each of the five categories.
Cue an emotional double fist pump as the straight-game victory sent him top of Group B, with Indonesia’s world No. 7 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting second after he beat fifth-ranked compatriot Jonatan Christie 6-21, 21-10, 21-9.
Sharing how they had prepared extensively for various wind speeds – folding the feathers of the shuttlecocks inwards to simulate faster conditions and outwards for slower ones during training – Ho said: “We were well-prepared and Kean Yew stuck to the game plan.
“He managed to capitalise on his opponent’s habitual shots and performed very well today to get the first win.”
The sprinkling of Singaporean fans celebrating with the national flag also motivated him.
Acknowledging the support, Loh said: “I have some friends among them whom I haven’t met for a long time, and I also saw other fans and quite a few Singapore flags, which is always nice and makes me happy.”
The top two players in each group advance to the semi-finals and Loh will face both Indonesians next. He plays Christie, whom he has not beaten in five attempts, on Thursday before facing Ginting, with whom the spoils are shared at 2-2, a day later.
Overall, it was a good first day for some World Tour Finals debutants, as Japanese starlet and world No. 14 Kodai Naraoka beat India’s 12th-ranked H. S. Prannoy 21-12, 9-21, 21-17 in their men’s singles Group A meeting.
However, China’s world No. 17 Lu Guangzu lost 21-13, 21-11 to Denmark’s world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen, who leads Group A.
In the women’s singles Group A, Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung produced the day’s biggest upset when the world No. 18 beat China’s Olympic champion and world No. 4 Chen Yufei 21-9, 14-21, 21-16.
Tunjung, 23, said: “She didn’t settle down well in the first game so I tried to put as much pressure on her as possible. During the match, I tried my best not to think about the result and just gave my all, and I’m happy with the win.”