Singapore Badminton Open: Loh Kean Yew in stirring opening-round win over tricky rival

Riding on strong crowd support, the former world champ showcases a more varied approach, to outwit Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu

Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew in action against Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu at the 2023 Singapore Open.
Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew in action against Hong Kong's Lee Cheuk Yiu at the 2023 Singapore Open. (PHOTO: Shi Tang/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Against a tricky opponent - and close friend on the tour circuit - Singapore's top men's shuttler Loh Kean Yew rode on a wave of strong crowd support and his fast-improving game management to win his opening-round match at the KFF Singapore Badminton Open on Wednesday (7 June).

The former world champion was facing Hong Kong's world No.14 Lee Cheuk Yiu, whom he had finally beaten for the first time in four tries during April's Badminton Asia Championships. Just like that encounter, he toughed it out for two tense games at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but trumped Lee for a second straight time, 21-19, 21-19, in 41 minutes.

"It was important that I managed to be very focused on every point, because both of us are very offensive players who look to score the winning point all the time," he told reporters after his win.

"I had to step up my net play to gain control, and I managed to do so, and I'm happy to get this win for the fans."

Loh, ranked No.5 in the world, showcased a more varied approach than his usual reliance on high-octane smashes against Lee, becoming more willing to stay in rallies and craft out openings against his rivals.

Such patience was crucial in the first game, as he remained calm and poised while holding on to a slim lead. Even though Lee crept to within a point on several occasions, Loh managed to fend him off for a vital advantage.

"I was on the better side of the draft in the stadium, so I knew I had to get the first game, otherwise (Lee) will be much tougher to beat in the second game," he explained.

Sure enough, Lee stepped up a gear in the second game, grabbing a slim advantage at the start before widening the lead to 17-12. Loh, however, sensed his moment to strike and, amid a packed crowd at the stadium, roared back from 14-18 down to clinch the victory.

He will next face either France's Christo Popov or Israel's Misha Zilberman in the round of 16 on Thursday.

Singapore shuttler Yeo Jia Min in action at the Malaysia Masters.
Singapore shuttler Yeo Jia Min in action at the Malaysia Masters. (PHOTO: How Foo Yeen/Getty Images)

Yeo Jia Min advances after sparkling victory

In the women's singles, Singapore's Yeo Jia Min made surprisingly light work of her higher-ranked rival, China's world No.17 Zhang Yiman, winning 21-18, 21-14 in 34 minutes.

The world No.29 - who reached the quarter-finals of last week's Thailand Open - used her exceptional court craft and shot-making skills to drag Zhang all over the court before launching repeated winners past her stunned opponent to advance into the round of 16.

"I tried to take the initiative from the start, and not play at my opponent's speed. I think eventually I managed to play to my strengths and I'm please to get off to a good start," the soft-spoken Yeo told reporters after her victory.

She will be in for a tough encounter next, facing world No.2 An Se-yeong in the round of 16, after the South Korea defeated compatriot Kim Ga-eun 21-16, 21-16 in her opening-round tie.

Yeo said, "I will need to bring my best game tomorrow, and take advantage of whatever the situation I am in. Hopefully this win will give me some momentum."

In the women's doubles, Singapore's Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong nearly caused a huge upset against the defending champions, Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti.

Amid an error-strewn outing by the Indonesian duo, Jin and Wong seized the first game 21-15, and pushed their opponents all the way before the sixth seeds steadied the ship in the second game, 21-19.

As the Singapore pair ran out of steam, Rahayu and Ramadhanti took the third game 21-15 and could breathe a sigh of relief.

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