SINGAPORE - National shuttler Loh Kean Yew claimed the biggest scalp of his career as he shocked Japan's world No. 1 and defending world champion Kento Momota 21-7, 17-21, 21-19 in 69 minutes on Thursday (Nov 25) to advance to the Indonesia Open quarter-finals.
The world No. 26 will face Denmark's 21st-ranked Hans-Kristian Vittinghus at the Bali International Convention Center on Friday.
But the fearless Loh will fancy his chances of progressing deeper into the US$850,000 (S$1.16 million) Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 1000 event after conquering the off-colour Momota, who had won the Super 750 Indonesia Masters the previous week.
After tucking into a well-deserved burger and a relaxing hot bath, Loh told The Straits Times: "I go into every match aiming to win, regardless of who I'm up against. The game plan was to outlast him, while taking as much initiative as possible, because he had played in a Sunday final and another tough match on Tuesday."
Displaying niftier footwork, the Singaporean continuously breached his opponent's famed defence with delicate net play and a series of ferocious cross-court smashes to the southpaw's backhand.
After being thumped in the first game in just 12 minutes, the 27-year-old Momota rallied from 9-2 down in the second game to force a decider.
In the final game, the Japanese looked like he had the upper hand at 14-9 as his less experienced rival made more unforced errors. But Loh fought his way back and required just one match point to seal the huge upset and his first win over Momota, who missed at the net, in two attempts.
"I was lucky to win the match point," said Loh. "He started gaining in confidence from the second game and I was feeling fatigued. But I thought I should just tahan (hang in there), and throw everything out there. The pressure was all on him as world No. 1."
Loh, 24, has been on a tear since his one-month training stint with Tokyo 2020 men's singles champion Viktor Axelsen after the Olympics.
Not only did he win the Super 500 Hylo Open in Germany on Nov 7, he has also beaten a string of top players in the past month, including Chinese Taipei's world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen, Malaysia's All England champion Lee Zii Jia (seventh), Taiwanese Wang Tzu-wei (11th), Denmark's Rasmus Gemke (13th) and India's Lakshya Sen (19th).
Loh is the first Singaporean to reach a Super 1000 quarter-final since the BWF World Tour began in 2018. The previous best was when Yeo Jia Min reached the last 16 of the 2020 Thailand Open. Super 1000 events are a level below the top-tier World Tour Finals.
National singles coach Kelvin Ho said: "We were lucky too because Momota appeared tired, which we observed from his performance.
"Kean Yew did well in the third game despite having to play catch-up. He piled on the pressure at the net and we are thankful it worked in our favour."
But Loh refuses to let his latest and biggest giant-killing act get to his head. He said: "Because of consecutive tournaments and how far he progressed, he was probably at 60 per cent while I was at 80 per cent. It could have been a different story if we were both fresh.
"Sure, this is a big and important win in my badminton journey, but the battle is still ongoing and I cannot afford to get carried away."