SINGAPORE – Loh Kean Yew’s 21-10, 21-9 first-round win over Australia’s 427th-ranked Low Pit Seng at the Australian Open on Wednesday might have been routine, but it was a seismic victory in the grander scheme of things for the Singaporean world No. 3.
His 26-minute victory at the Quay Centre in Sydney was enough to seal his passage to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour Finals, making him the first Singaporean man to qualify for the prestigious season-ender.
The US$1.5 million (S$2.05 million) event, which was moved from Guangzhou to Bangkok and rescheduled on Tuesday to Dec 7-11 from Dec 14-18, features the year’s eight best performers in the singles and doubles.
Loh is currently seventh on the World Tour rankings and has enough points to avoid being edged out by either China’s Lu Guangzu or Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia, one of whom will fill the last spot.
The other men’s singles players to have made the cut are Denmark’s world and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen, India’s H. S. Prannoy, Indonesians Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Japan’s Kodai Naraoka.
Loh, who will play China’s world No. 27 Li Shifeng in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday, told The Straits Times: “People always remember the first person to achieve big things, so I’m happy to create another slice of history, which can hopefully inspire others.”
However, he admitted candidly that he got confused in the calculation of the World Tour Finals ranking, which differs from the world rankings that count only the 10 highest point tallies and may take in results from the previous year.
Loh, who missed out on the Finals by a mere 1,510 points last year, said: “I thought that also used the 10 best points tallies, but I realised results from all World Tour events in the year were included only quite late on in the European swing last month.
“The race was both interesting and irritating because I was 11th before that and trying to catch up, but my nearest competitors were also doing well.
“It was so near, yet so far for me in 2021, so I’m just relieved I made it in the end. It’s a weight off my shoulders.”
In his first year of gaining access to all of the top-tier events on the World Tour, the newly crowned Sportsman of the Year has yet to win a tournament.
However, he made it to at least the quarter-finals in 11 out of 15 events (seven out of 11 on the World Tour) and the consistency has helped in his pursuit of the Finals ticket.
Loh said: “Qualifying for the World Tour Finals is a tangible reward for a year of consistent performances and results, so I’m happy with my year so far.
“The six weeks I had – three in Singapore, one in Dubai and two in Denmark – to recover and train away from competitions before the Denmark Open was good.
“I will have about two weeks to get ready for the World Tour Finals. It’s one week earlier than the original schedule, but I’ll just adapt like I would for the possible hotter weather in Bangkok. I was looking forward to playing in front of the Chinese fans as we have not played there for a long time, but I’m sure the Thai fans will be equally passionate.
“Now that I’m in, of course I want to win matches at the World Tour Finals. But these are the eight most consistent players of the year, so anything can happen. I will take it one match at a time, and since it is my first time there, every win will be a breakthrough.”
Singapore Badminton Association chief executive officer Alan Ow hailed Loh’s “great fighting spirit and resilience”.
He said: “We are tremendously proud of Kean Yew. He did very well to get the results he needed to make up quite a lot of ground over a hectic month.
“These included beating the mighty Viktor Axelsen on his home ground at the Denmark Open, and other victories against ex-world No. 1 Srikanth Kidambi (Denmark Open) and former world No. 2 Shi Yuqi (Hylo Open).
“We hope Kean Yew’s achievements will continue to inspire future generations of athletes, and we will give him all the support he needs to do well in Bangkok.”
Meanwhile, Loh could still be joined by compatriots Terry Hee and Jessica Tan at the Finals.
With numerous top mixed doubles players opting not to head Down Under, the path is open for the Commonwealth Games champions to squeeze into the top eight of the Finals qualification rankings. They are currently 12th.
To do so, they need to win the Australian Open to secure enough points to overtake four pairs currently in front.
They play South Korea’s 22nd-ranked Seo Seung-jae and Chae Yu-jung in the second round on Thursday.