SINGAPORE — Loh Kean Yew must be sick of the sight of Kunlavut Vitidsarn standing in his path to tournament glory.
The Thai world No.9 is fast becoming Loh's nemesis, a seemingly-insurmountable obstacle in whatever competition the Singaporean former world champion meets him.
On Friday (13 January), Kunlavut again dashed Loh's hopes of ending his barren trophy spell, defeating the world No.6 21-11, 20-22, 21-14 in an epic 80-minute battle at the Malaysian Open quarter-finals in Kuala Lumpur.
This is Loh's fourth straight defeat by the former world junior champion, stretching back to the Thailand Open in January 2021. To make the bitter pill of defeat even harder to swallow, the losses have come in key tournaments - at the SEA Games gold-medal match in Hanoi last May, and at the BWF World Championships in Tokyo last August.
Kunlavut's exceptional defence meant that he could nullify Loh's aggressive offence, and Loh has yet to figure out how to outlast and outwit his wily Thai rival in long, draw-out rallies. More often than not, Kunlavut was able to draw out Loh's old error-prone self, resulting in scores of points lost as Loh tried to end the points early.
This was evident in the first game, as a 4-all tie quickly became 11-6 and 17-10 leads for Kunlavut, as he took the opening game comfortably.
Loh put up a feisty fight in the second game, going from a 0-7 hole to claw back to 14-all, before edging Kunlavut in a see-saw finale to the game.
However, the Thai resumed control decisively after the duo were tied at 8-all in the final game, powering ahead 16-9 before closing out the quarter-final tie. He will meet either India's H.S. Prannoy or Japan's Kodai Naraoka in the semi-finals.
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