SEA Games: Singapore's Loh Kean Yew falls to Malaysian Lee Zii Jia in badminton men's singles final

Loh Kean Yew is the first Singaporean men's finalist at the biennial Games since Kendrick Lee in 2007. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Loh Kean Yew is the first Singaporean men's finalist at the biennial Games since Kendrick Lee in 2007. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia waves to the crowd after winning the SEA Games men's singles. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

MANILA - Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew does not dwell on past glories. Instead, his mind, after his 21-18, 21-18 loss to Malaysian Lee Zii Jia in the SEA Games men's singles final, was on how to make a good year better.

"Actually, I've forgotten about that already," said Loh, when asked about the biggest upset of his fledgling career over former world champion Lin Dan in January.

"I always look to the future. It's been quite a good year but I want next year to be better, so I'm going to go back and train hard, and be more focused in training."

The 22-year-old, the first Singapore man to reach the singles final since Kendrick Lee in 2007, attributed his defeat in the final on Monday (Dec 9) to a lapse in focus.

He trailed Lee throughout the first game, narrowed the gap several times before going down 21-18.

Loh had defeated Thailand's top seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen 16-21, 21-6, 21-9 in the semi-finals at the Muntinlupa Sports Complex a day earlier.

The only Singapore man to win the badminton men's singles title was Wong Shoon Keat at the 1983 Games in Singapore.

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Loh started strong in the second game, going 11-6 up, but lost the next five points and eventually succumbed to the world No. 14.

He said: "I made some simple errors that let him get (ahead) easily and gave him more confidence.

"I got quite confident (in the second) and, at 11-6, I kind of wanted to win too much. So I rushed for shots and made so many mistakes. Then he got back his confidence and it wasn't easy from there."

Lee, 21, had been prepared for a third game, saying: "Maybe he felt too much pressure, you can see at the end - he made a lot of mistakes so I took advantage. At 11-6 down I was prepared for a rubber game, so I just enjoyed that game."

Loh entered the final with two losses to Lee in two months and is now 0-4 in their career head-to-head. His strategy in the final was to play faster and try to create errors by drawing the Malaysian to the net and forcing him to lift the shuttle.

"I'm against the wind so, when he lifts, it's easier (for the shuttle to land) outside," he explained. "I couldn't really do it well in the first game and, in the second, I did it but lost focus and made simple errors."

The duo's rivalry dates back to age-group tournaments in Malaysia. Loh, who was born in Penang and became a Singaporean in 2015, beat Lee in the Under-12 final of the 2009 National Junior Grand Prix in Seremban.

Loh said: "Last night I actually thought about it and it was a big stage, and I won.

"I looked forward to the match today but it's quite sad that I couldn't perform and get the win."

After reaching three BWF World Tour finals this year, winning in Bangkok and losing at the Hyderabad and Russian Opens, his 2020 goals are clear: More consistent performances, breaking into the top 20 of the world rankings, and attaining Olympic qualification.

He added: "I want a more consistent year where I reach the quarter- and semi-finals of tournaments more, and maybe even reach finals and be the champion."

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