SINGAPORE — All eyes will be on Loh Kean Yew this week, as he prepares to play in his first Singapore Open since becoming the nation's first badminton world champion last December.
The 25-year-old shuttler has been enjoying the finest 12 months of his career, winning his first Badminton World Federation (BWF) Super 500-level tournament at the Hylo Open in Germany in November 2021, before stunning the badminton world with his monumental World Championships triumph in Huelva, Spain.
Since then, Loh has climbed into the men's singles top 10 rankings for the first time, and earned a SEA Games silver medal in Hanoi in May. While he has advanced into the later stages of the India Open and Indonesia Masters this year, he has yet to win a title in 2022 - a trend he hopes to change at the Singapore Open from 12 to 17 July at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
"The pressure of playing, especially in front of the home crowd will always be there. But I’ve learnt how to cope with that since winning the World Championships," Loh said during a media conference at ParkRoyal Collection Marina Bay Singapore on Monday (11 July).
“I discuss with my coach about our game plan before each match. Every opponent is tough in his own way, and I cannot identify who will be my toughest opponent this week.
"But I try not to get angry on the court. Getting angry is not going to change anything. I may be smiling but there’s lots of hidden stress."
Trying to end 60-year lean spell in men's singles
No Singaporean shuttler has won the men's singles title at the Open since Wee Choon Seng did it a staggering 60 years ago in 1962, and Loh himself had made just one main-draw appearance back in 2018.
But Loh is returning to the tournament - which was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years - a much-improved player, and has been fortunate to be in the easier half of the draw, with only Indonesia's Anthony Sinisuka Ginting ranked higher than him.
Should he manage to make his way out of his half of the draw, then he might face tough rivals in Indonesia's Jonatan Christie - whom he has never beaten in five previous encounters - and top-seeded Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen, whom he lost to at last month's Indonesia Masters semi-finals.
"Winning the World Championships has definitely boosted Kean Yew’s confidence," Christie said during the media conference.
"Of course, there’s a chance we might meet in the men’s singles if we win all our matches. He is going to enjoy strong home support, for sure. But for now, I’m just going to focus on one match at a time. Every match is important, and the key is to win each one and then progress.”
Local shuttlers aiming to find successes
Just as Loh is bidding to end Singapore's dry spell at the Open, other local shuttlers like women's singles shuttler Yeo Jia Min and mixed doubles duo Terry Hee and Tan Wei Han are similarly gunning for glory at the Indoor Stadium.
But the paths to success will not be easy, giving the formidable player field taking part in the US$370,000 (S$520,000) tournament. In the women's singles, defending champion and world No.2 Tai Tzu-Ying is looking forward to extending her love affair with the Open.
The 28-year-old is in scintillating form, winning two titles and making the semi-finals thrice in her last five events. Yet, she said at the media conference, "I’m my biggest enemy. I set high standards for myself and push myself continuously. I have not set any targets for myself this week, but I want to stay healthy and keep myself in tip-top physical condition.”
Likewise in the mixed doubles, Hee and Tan - who won the India Open title in January - would have to contend with a tough barrier in the top-seeded defending champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai of Thailand.
Organisers have opened up more tickets for the Open, and they start from $5 for children and $30 for adults.
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