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Loh Kean Yew powers ahead at India Open after young Japanese upstart fades

Singapore shuttler overcomes early setback to oust fast-improving Kodai Naraoka in 3 games

Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew retrieves a shot at the Malaysia Open.
Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew retrieves a shot at the Malaysia Open. (PHOTO: Shi Tang/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Facing an opponent who had made dramatic improvements last year, Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew came from a game down to overcome Japan's Kodai Naraoka in his opening-round tie at the India Open on Wednesday (18 January).

Naraoka had stunned the badminton world when he shot up from world No.48 to world No.6 in a space of just 12 months, and had just finished as runner-up behind world No.1 Viktor Axelsen at last week's Malaysia Open.

However, world No.7 Loh - who was runner-up in last year's India Open - managed to rein in the Japanese after losing the opening game, eventually sweeping to a 18-21, 21-9, 21-7 at the K.D. Jadhav Indoor Hall in New Delhi.

Naraoka began the tie on top, surging to a 12-5 lead before Loh found his footing. The Singaporean chipped away the Japanese shuttler's lead, eventually tying the score at 18-all, but Naraoka managed to clinched the next three points to take the game.

Perhaps the exertions of last week's Malaysia Open - where Naraoka fought through four consecutive three-game matches before falling in the final to Axelsen - began to take their toll on the 21-year-old. But the Japanese began to fade as Loh seized control of the match, winning the second game with seven straight points.

The former world champion smelled blood, as he kept up his intensity in the third game while Naraoka slumped. Loh surged to an 8-0 lead and never looked back, sealing the tie in 56 minutes.

He will next face Danish veteran Hans-Christian Vittinghus - a former top 10 player who is now ranked world No.34 - in the round of 16.

Should he progress past the 37-year-old Dane, he could be facing his nemesis Kunlavut Vitidsarn again. The Thai SEA Games gold medallist had eliminated Loh from last week's Malaysia Open in the quarter-final stage.

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