SINGAPORE - It is the biggest match of his fledgling career and Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew will also be facing his sternest challenge ever in the final of the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters on Sunday (Jan 13): Chinese legend Lin Dan.
World No. 125 Loh came back to defeat 30th-ranked Brice Leverdez of France 14-21, 21-10, 21-14 in the semi-final on Saturday (Jan 12) while top seed Lin tamed compatriot Lu Guangzu 21-11, 6-21, 21-18.
The US$150,000 (S$203,000) Thailand Masters is rated a Level 5 tournament on the Badminton World Federation's World Tour, four rungs below its top-tiered US$1.5 million season finale.
Looking ahead to tomorrow's final, where he will battle Lin, winner of two Olympic golds and five world titles, for the US$11,250 winner's cheque, Loh is taking a calm approach.
"He is one of the best badminton players of all time, so I am the underdog and have nothing to lose," said the 21-year-old. "I can't get too excited. I need to maintain (my) composure and treat it like any other match and stay focused."
Former Singapore shuttler Ronald Susilo, who famously upset Lin at the 2004 Olympics, believes Loh can pull off an upset today.
Noting that the 35-year-old Lin, now the world No. 13, has been playing rubber games in every match from the first round at this tournament, Susilo believes the Chinese is not in top form and would be further tired out by these deciders.
"My advice is for Loh to be patient and (there is) no need to be attacking all the time. Loh definitely has a very good chance to win," he added.
Loh believes his contract with Langhoj Badminton Club, which ends this month, has contributed to his growth as a player and person.
He and Yeo Jia Min joined professional Danish clubs last October in the hopes of becoming better players and they are a step closer to achieving this goal, as evidenced by their performances during their first tournament of the year.
"I've learnt different playing styles while I was in Langhoj and trained with different (types) of players," he said, adding that he is now more consistent in training after finishing national service and also more focused on the task at hand.
For instance, he could not adapt well to the draught in the first game yesterday but managed to attack more in the second.
"In the third game, I just kept reminding myself to stay focused and not make simple errors," he added.
Yeo, 19, reached the quarter-finals of a fifth-tier Badminton World Federation (BWF) Super 300 event for the first time at this event.
Her contract with the Ab Aarhus club ended last month. Both players' contracts were facilitated by the Singapore Badminton Association and Singapore Sports School.
Said world No. 53 Yeo, who fell in the quarter-finals to Indonesian world No. 33 Fitriani Fitriani on Friday: "From this competition, I've seen how certain things I've prepared for work well... (namely) physical conditioning and footwork, which affect my shots and game play."