SINGAPORE - Fielding requests for selfies with local players at the India Open, Singapore's badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew knows he will not only be the centre of attention at future tournaments, but he will also have a target on his back.
But the 24-year-old Singaporean has at least cleared the first hurdle of 2022, when he beat Canada's world No. 69 Sheng Xiaodong 16-21, 21-4, 21-13 in the first round of the India Open on Tuesday (Jan 11).
The US$400,000 (S$541,000) competition is a Super 500 event, which is on the fourth tier of the Badminton World Federation World Tour circuit.
World No. 15 Loh will play Malaysia's 70th-ranked Soong Joo Ven on Thursday for a place in the quarter-finals.
While he has set his sights on winning the tournament, he told The Straits Times: "Nobody can peak and win all the time. It's a new year and a new beginning for me. I hope to forget about the world champs and start from zero again."
After winning the world title in Huelva, Spain, on Dec 19, Loh returned to Singapore for 11 days before heading to Dubai to train with world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen.
While he seems to have recovered from the ankle injury sustained in Spain, Loh did show some ringrust with numerous unforced errors in the first game. However, he upped his pace and variation later on to take apart his opponent's game in 50 minutes and progress to the round of 16.
Soong, 26, told The Star he is looking forward to his first encounter with a world champion, and said: "What Kean Yew achieved at the World Championships is very inspiring. I think he proved to everyone that anything's possible when you believe in yourself."
In the women's singles, Singapore's world No. 17 Yeo Jia Min made light work of 105th-ranked American Disha Gupta 21-7, 21-10 in 23 minutes.
The 22-year-old will take on India's world No. 159 Anupama Upadhyaya on Thursday for a place in the last eight.
National singles coach Kelvin Ho praised Loh and Yeo's ability to step up and "play at a higher intensity" when required to kill off their lower-ranked opponents.
Third seed Yeo added: "After the World Championships, I had a one-week break and resumed training a week before coming to India. I feel excited to compete again and it's a good start for the first match and I am getting used to the wind conditions.
"I hope to win as many matches as I can here."
The Republic's men's doubles pair of Terry Hee and Loh Kean Hean will open their campaign on Wednesday against Krishna Prasad Garaga and Vishnuvardhan Goud Panjala, while the mixed doubles combination of Tan Wei Han and Hee will meet another home duo T. Hema Nagendra Babu and Srivedya Gurazada.