SINGAPORE - National shuttler Loh Kean Yew has won the biggest title of his career after he beat Malaysia's world No. 8 Lee Zii Jia, who retired in the Hylo Open men's singles final on Sunday (Nov 8).
The 24-year-old Singaporean was leading 19-21, 21-13, 17-12 at the Saarlandhalle in Saarbrucken, Germany when Lee conceded the match after suffering a back injury.
This is Loh's first triumph at the Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 500 level, the fourth tier on the sport’s professional circuit. He had won the 2019 Thailand Masters, a Super 300 event, by beating Chinese legend Lin Dan.
The world No. 39 also won US$24,000 (S$32,400) in prize money and 9,200 ranking points.
Loh said: "I'm delighted to win this tournament, but I hope Lee is not too badly injured. We both wanted to win this badly and put up a fierce fight.
"This is a good milestone for my career and I will continue working hard to make sure there is more to come.
"It's good to be beating high-ranking opponents consistently and this was what I needed to develop. The next step would be to perform consistently well over a few tournaments."
Earlier in the US$320,000 tournament, Loh had upset Taiwanese world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen, France’s world No. 35 Toma Junior Popov, Denmark’s world No. 13 Rasmus Gemke and India’s 21st-ranked Lakshya Sen.
The players entered the arena to the strains of Mission Impossible's soundtrack, but Loh was having none of it despite their ranking gap as the duo - childhood rivals who grew up in Malaysia - served up an enthralling match that often had the crowd gasping in admiration.
Loh made more unforced errors in the first game which allowed All England champion Lee to take the lead as both athletes fought tooth and nail, countering fierce smashes with diving saves that left them with scraped knuckles.
However, the Singaporean upped his game, displaying brilliant defence and unleashing ferocious body smashes as Lee wilted and lost the last nine points of the second frame before calling in the doctor.
Still, the Malaysian persevered and kept the pace up to 10-10 in the decider, before Loh streaked ahead and recorded his second straight victory over Lee in two weeks following the French Open round of 32 win.
"Balance between patience and aggression was the key to winning this final," he said.
"I was too rushed in the first game but later on I settled down, tried my best to defend well while looking for opportunities to go for the kill."
Unfortunately, Loh's teammate Yeo Jia Min was unable to match his success, missing out on what would be the biggest title of her career after losing to Thailand's world No. 14 Busanan Ongbamrungphan 21-10, 21-14 in the women's singles final.
The 25-year-old Thai was the quicker and sharper player on the day as she read and countered Yeo's game well, taking just 35 minutes to win her first championship at the Super 500 level.
Nevertheless, Yeo, ranked 26th, had a good week overall to make her first Super 500 final after beating Chinese Taipei's world No. 39 Pai Yu-po, Indonesia's 23rd-ranked Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, Belgium's world No. 38 Lianne Tan and Canada's world No. 11 Michelle Li.
For her efforts, the 22-year-old Singaporean claimed a cheque for US$12,160 (S$16,400) and 7,800 ranking points that should see her break into the world's top 20 for the first time.
Yeo said: "I'm disappointed with my game in the final. I wasn’t moving well and she was quick to go on attacks and pressured me very well to get the win.
"But reaching my first Super 500 final motivates me to keep looking forward and improving.
"I’ll have one week to recover physically and improve my game to challenge the top players again in Indonesia."
Singapore Badminton Association technical director Martin Andrew is pleased with the duo's development and progress as they complete a month of competition in Europe and return to Asia for the Nov 16-21 Indonesia Masters and Nov 23-28 Indonesia Open.
On top of being pleased with their fighting spirit and game management, he said: "Jia Min has started to adopt a more aggressive style, following up strong attacks with additional power shots and linking more pace together, while bringing in softer controlled play.
"She has performed well and started to be able to turn matches around in her favour. We will work on some areas but she is progressing well and can challenge the top women's players.
"Kean Yew has also started to show the level he is capable of. His attacking style of play is linking well with his agility. When he is able to play freely, coupled with strong tactics, he is able to attack and use his speed and defensive abilities well.
"This is probably where he has improved the most - the quality of his defence followed up by good offensive play. Kean Yew also has areas to develop like getting confident enough to maintain this style of play and delivering consistently."