SEA Games 2019

SEA Games: Shuttler Loh Kean Yew seeks history and last laugh in finals after upset win over top seed

First S'pore men's singles finalist since 2007 will have to produce another upset for gold

Loh Kean Yew after beating Soong Joo Ven to reach the quarter-finals. He faces another Malaysian, world No. 14 Lee Zii Jia, in the final today. PHOTO: SNOC
Loh Kean Yew after beating Soong Joo Ven to reach the quarter-finals. He faces another Malaysian, world No. 14 Lee Zii Jia, in the final today. PHOTO: SNOC

"Set a goal big enough for people to laugh at. They laugh because it is impossible for them.

"They are the weaklings, not you. Work hard towards it."

This was part of a WhatsApp message badminton player Loh Kean Yew sent in January to the Singapore intermediate squad players of mainly teenagers after his shock win over Chinese great Lin Dan in the Thailand Masters final.

Today, at the Muntinlupa Sports Complex in Manila, Loh hopes to have the last laugh as he bids to make history in the SEA Games men's singles final. He will face Malaysian Lee Zii Jia for the gold medal after toppling Thailand's top seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen 16-21, 21-6, 21-9 yesterday.

Loh, 22, said: "I was a bit slow during the first set but picked up the speed in the second and third sets, which made the difference.

"I'm really happy to reach the final but I need to stay calm and not get ahead of myself."

He is the first Singaporean men's finalist at the biennial Games since Kendrick Lee in Korat, Thailand, in 2007. Lee lost in straight sets to Indonesia's Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat.

Wong Shoon Keat's 1983 victory on home soil remains the Republic's sole success in the event while Fu Mingtian took the women's crown at Jakarta 2011.

World No. 30 Loh faces a formidable task, though, to join Wong in the record books. He has lost all three meetings with the 14th-ranked Lee, the latest coming in the men's team semi-finals on Monday. He lost 21-18, 21-12 and admitted that Lee, 21, "prepared better than I did and I didn't control the situation well".

 

  • 1983 

    The only time Singapore won gold in the badminton men's singles.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Loh quickly regrouped in the singles competition with solid wins over Malaysia's Soong Joo Ven (world No. 62) and Indonesia Shesar Hiren Rhustavito (No. 21).

Against Kantaphon, a world championships semi-finalist in August, Loh was outplayed in the first set but turned things around - dismantling the No. 13 with superior court control, placement and energy over the next 30 minutes.

This has been a breakthrough year for Loh. He made it to three BWF World Tour finals in 2019, winning in Bangkok and losing at the Hyderabad and Russian Opens.

He said: "I watched videos of my matches in the team event and made some adjustments in training. We also analysed opponents' games and prepared accordingly."

Singapore singles coach Mulyo Handoyo added: "Kean Yew adjusted his front-court and follow-up shots after the first set. His shot quality and control were better in the second and third.

"We coaches review every game and he was able to use the analysis to make the necessary changes for the singles. He also showed fighting spirit and how much he wants to make the final.

"For the final, we will strategise to address the issues he faced against Zii Jia in their previous match."

Loh vowed to go all out and said: "I go to every competition wanting to win it, and not just a particular player. My aim is to win the final."

Such confidence and belief is nothing to laugh at.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2019, with the headline 'Loh seeks history and last laugh'. Subscribe