HANOI - Once again, the gold medal was within Loh Kean Yew’s grasp. Three years after missing out at the Philippines SEA Games, the shuttler found himself one step from winning Singapore’s first men’s singles title in almost four decades.
And once again, Loh saw his golden chance slipping from him on Sunday (May 22) as the 24-year-old was beaten 21-13, 21-13 by Thai world No. 18 Kunlavut Vitidsarn in the final at the Bac Giang Gymnasium.
With both players tied at one win apiece in previous encounters, world champion Loh – who is ranked 10th in the world – had appeared to be the favourite to clinch the gold after taming wily Vietnamese veteran Nguyen Tien Minh 21-15, 10-21, 23-21 on Saturday.
But Kunlavut’s superior net play and an error-ridden game by Loh gave his rival the victory, and the coveted gold.
A weary Loh said yesterday: “I tried to overcome my tiredness and fatigue and I still gave my all and fought all the way till the end.
“I’m a bit disappointed. Definitely I think I can play better than this but I’ve been feeling quite tired. It’s been a good run and it’s time for a little break then back to training after.
“It’s more of fatigue... the opponent is also tired but it’s just how we manage it and he managed it better than I did.”
Loh has had a busy month which began with the Thomas Cup in Bangkok, which began on May 8 though the Singapore men’s team exited in the group stage.
At the Hanoi SEA Games, he endured a testing 80-minute semi-final against world No. 69 Minh and Loh admitted he was very tired after that game.
And the fatigue showed on the court yesterday, as Loh was put to work by his 21-year-old opponent Kunlavut, who sent the Singaporean scrambling on numerous occasions with his precise shots and brilliant net play.
National singles head coach Kelvin Ho attributed Loh’s costly unforced errors to fatigue and a dip in concentration.
The 32-year-old said: “We’ve always been working on his fitness and he’s been trying his best since the Thomas Cup so it’s normal to see a little bit of a dip in form.
“So it’s for him to learn how to be more consistent even when he’s dropping so this is a good learning process for him.
“Throughout the whole SEA Games, he did well in terms of court coverage and his attacking game. It was a tough match against Vietnam and he still couldn’t recover from it, but overall he put in his best effort to attack but the Thai was the better player.”
Consistency will remain the focus for the coach and player, as Ho added: “Every unforced error will be costly in a game like this but due to fatigue, his concentration levels dropped so he made unforced errors like that.”
Loh will take a short break before returning to Dubai to train with Denmark’s world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen. He will next compete in the June 14-19 Indonesia Open.
Newly crowned singles champions Kunlavut was pleased with his performance on his Games debut.
The three-time junior world champion, who hopes to break into the top-10 rankings and reach the top four at the World Championships, said: “Before I came, I had to learn about him and his playing style through YouTube and I talked about (his weaknesses) with my coach and practised.”
This is Loh's second consecutive singles silver at the biennial Games after he lost to Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia in 2019.
He also has a singles bronze from 2015 on home soil.