SINGAPORE — Singapore's SEA Games badminton men's singles gold drought continues.
World champion Loh Kean Yew - fatigued and out of sorts - could not become the first Singaporean since 1983 to land the prized medal, stumbling to a 13-21, 13-21 loss to Thailand's Kunlavut Vitidsam in the final at the Bac Giang Gymnasium on Sunday (22 May).
The current world No.10 was far from his scintillating best, as he was tentative in attack and sluggish in defence against his world No.18 opponent.
"I was tired, but my opponent was also tired," Loh told reporters after his loss. "But he prepared better than me today.
"Definitely I can play better than this... I tried my best but it wasn't enough."
Perhaps Loh's energy-sapping, three-set semi-final win against Vietnam's wily veteran Nguyen Tien Minh took too much out of him. Perhaps his heavy schedule in the past fortnight, which included leading the men's national team at the prestigious Thomas Cup finals in Bangkok, had finally caught up with him.
But the 24-year-old just could not seem to find the ferocious smashes and outstanding defence that had served him so well in his remarkable Badminton World Championships triumph last December. Even a fast start to the match, in which he had led 9-5 in the first set, failed to set him on the path to victory.
On the other hand, 21-year-old Kunlavut was a picture of stoic brilliance throughout the final, steadily wearing Loh down with exceptional defence and deceptive returns to earn a richly-deserved gold for Thailand.
This will be the second consecutive Games in which Loh has earned a silver medal for Singapore. At the 2019 Games, he lost to Malaysia's top player Lee Zii Jia in the final.
He was the top seed going into this men's singles tournament, as Lee - together with top Indonesia shuttlers Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie - gave the SEA Games a miss this year.
After helping the men's team win a bronze medal earlier in the SEA Games, Loh opened his men's singles campaign with a three-set win over Malaysia's Kok Jing Hong and a straight-sets victory over the Philippines' Jewel Angelo Albo.
However, he was taken to the limit in the semi-finals, as he faced Nguyen with the crowd fully behind their countryman. Despite being on the back foot for much of the three-set thriller, Loh managed to eke out a gutsy 21-15, 10-21, 23-21 victory to reach the final.
Wong Shoon Keat remains the only Singaporean shuttler to have won the men's singles event, when he defeated then-world No.1 Icuk Sugiarto en route to his memorable gold on home soil in 1983.