SINGAPORE – The way he was making save after save to repel the opponent’s attack in a spell-binding sequence of play, Loh Kean Yew could well have been auditioning to become a goalkeeper.
But as Singapore’s top badminton player, he was doing all he can to win an incredible 59-shot rally – and eventually his Indonesia Open first-round men’s singles match – against world No. 23 Chico Wardoyo at the Istora Gelora Bung Karno on Wednesday.
Ten times Wardoyo tried to smash and kill, with drop shots thrown in for good measure, but Loh always had an answer. Lunging, scampering, and even double-diving, the world No. 5 won the point of the day in the second game to lead 21-20 when the Indonesian’s lift sailed out, before he closed out the match 21-15, 23-21 in 45 minutes.
Loh will take on China’s All England Open champion and 10th-ranked Li Shifeng in the round of 16 on Thursday at the Super 1000 event while compatriot Yeo Jia Min faces Spain’s sixth-ranked Carolina Marin.
The 25-year-old Loh said: “I was just trying to get to every shot and send them back.
“It was exciting and exhausting, and possibly the most entertaining rally I’ve played at such a crucial point, and I’m glad I won and it contributed to the victory.”
The win was a good response to the disappointment from the tense and nervy loss to world No. 30 Frenchman Christo Popov in the round of 16 at last week’s Singapore Open, and Loh certainly came out looking like a different beast at the US$1.25 million (S$1.68 million) Indonesia Open.
He was less smiley, made no apologies for ruthless body shots, and unleashed a torrent of smashes to establish decisive 18-8 and 6-0 leads in the first and second game respectively.
Even when 2016 World Junior Championships silver medallist Wardoyo managed to save three match points to tie the second game at 20-20, Loh kept his composure, producing some excellent defence before prevailing.
Only when the match was over did he flash his boyish smile again and celebrate with a Speedy Gonzalez-like jig.
Loh said: “The celebration was instinctive and just for fun. He did it after he beat me at the Indonesia Masters here in January, so I just copied it.
“I think we both took it in good spirits on both occasions.”
Back to business mode, he added: “Obviously, there are a lot of points up for grabs for Olympic qualification at such a high-tiered event... But at the moment, in between matches, I really don’t want to think about too many things other than focus on what is immediately ahead of me.”
National singles coach Kelvin Ho shared that they have been working on improving his consistency on court.
He said: “Kean Yew can lose his control and tempo and allow opponent’s points to snowball at times.
“But today, he did well by creating and taking the opportunities at the start of each game, and managing the ups and downs after that, concentrating even while under pressure to win.
“He needs to maintain this confidence and focus on his own game first and then make the necessary on-court adjustments against his next opponent.”
In the women’s doubles, world No. 23 pair Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong lost 21-9, 21-8 to Thailand’s eighth-ranked Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai.