BIRMINGHAM - Since becoming world champion last December, Singapore's star shuttler Loh Kean Yew has realised that heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Expectations of him have become sky-high and the 25-year-old has also come under increased scrutiny. Being born in Penang has added to the intrigue as Malaysian media are also keen to track his ups and downs. On Wednesday (Aug 3), Malaysian newspaper The Star published a story headlined "(Ng) Tze Yong must grab chance as Kean Yew struggles with form".
Loh and Ng are in the same quarter of the Commonwealth Games men's singles draw, and the Malaysian No. 3 had played a key role in his country's mixed team gold medal win on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Loh lost to world No. 10 Lakshya Sen in India's 3-0 semi-final victory at the National Exhibition Centre.
And even after the world No. 9 had held his nerve to beat an inspired home favourite Toby Penty 23-25, 21-11, 25-23 in Singapore's 3-0 win over England to claim bronze, The Star called it a "huff and puff" scramble.
After overcoming South Africa's world No. 212 Robert Summers 21-16, 21-9 on Thursday to advance to the round of 16, Loh told The Straits Times that while he has not been reading the news, he is man enough to admit his struggle with form and consistency. It is just that this is nothing new.
He said: "I have been struggling all the time. It's just that not many knew who I was even at the Olympics, and after becoming world champion, more people know about me and expect me to win all the time, but it doesn't work like that.
"I'm working on my consistency and I'm still in the midst of finding it. It hasn't been easy, and it's not going to appear magically after I win the World Championship, but I'm working on it."
The 25-year-old will face Mauritius' world No. 333 Alexandre Bongout on Friday and even though possible meetings with 42nd-ranked Ng and India's world No. 13 Kidambi Srikanth loom large, the expectations are high as he is the top seed here.
Loh said: "It is something I have to manage, and I just take one match at a time.
"Major Games pressure is different from World Tour events because here we are are representing Team Singapore in a Games that come only once every four years, whereas there are World Tour tournaments every other week."
Later in the day, Singapore's world No. 35 Terry Hee and Jessica Tan, the mixed doubles third seeds here, eased past Zambia's 650th-ranked Kalombo Mulenga and Ogar Siamupangila with a 21-6, 21-4 win.
They will meet Scotland's world No. 96 Christopher Grimley and Eleanor O'Donnell in the round of 16 on Friday.
Tan said: "The most difficult thing about matches like today's is to maintain our speed and not follow their momentum. Every match is preparation for the next match so we still need to bring our best condition."
Hee added: "If we are not focused, we can get injured easily because the shots they execute can be quite unexpected so in a way we have to be more ready than we play against opponents of about the same level to protect ourselves."
It has also emerged that after testing positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, Loh Kean Hean did not recover in time to play in the men's doubles with Hee.
Hee said: "It's pretty disappointing but this is unexpected and out of our control. Kean Hean was already very responsible - when he felt a bit unwell, he distanced himself from the team. I wish him speedy recovery and try to look on the bright side, which is I can now concentrate on one event."
In the women's singles, Singapore's world No. 19 Yeo Jia Min also managed to keep her focus to beat Cyprus' 297th-ranked Eleni Christodoulou 21-12, 21-8.
The fourth seed will play England's Freya Redfearn in the round of 16 on Friday, having beaten the world No. 141 twice in the mixed team event.
Yeo said: "This is the first time I have played the same opponent so many times in a week, but I have to treat this as a new match and prepare well. She has some nice skills from the back court and doesn't give up easily, so I have to be ready."