Today, 21-year-old Singaporean Loh Kean Yew faces the biggest match of his career and his sternest challenge yet – badminton legend Lin Dan in the final of the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters in Bangkok.
The world No. 125 came back to upset 30th-ranked Brice Leverdez of France 14-21, 21-10, 21-14 in the semi-final yesterday, while top seed Lin tamed compatriot Lu Guangzu 21-11, 6-21, 21-18.
The fifth-tier US$150,000 (S$203,000) event on the Badminton World Federation’s world tour is four rungs below its top-tiered US$1.5 million season finale.
The winner’s cheque of US$11,250 will literally be hard-earned for Loh, who is taking a calm approach against the winner of two Olympic golds and five world titles.
“He is one of the best badminton players of all time, so I am the underdog and have nothing to lose,” said Loh.
“I can’t get too excited. I need to maintain (my) composure and treat it like any other match and stay focused.”
Former Singapore shuttler Ronald Susilo, who famously upset Lin at the 2004 Olympic Games, believes Loh can pull off an upset today.
He noted that Lin, now world No. 13, has been playing rubber games in all his four rounds, and believes that the 35-year-old is not in top form and would be further tired out by those deciders.
“My advice is to be patient and (there is) no need to attack all the time. Loh definitely has a very good chance to win,” he added.
Loh believes his professional stint at Langhoj Badminton Club, which ends this month, has contributed to his growth as a player and person, evidenced by the breakthrough achieved in the first tournament of the year.
Last October, the Singapore Badminton Association and Singapore Sports School paved the way for Loh and Yeo Jia Min, whose stint with AB Aarhus ended last month, to be contracted to Danish clubs.
“I’ve learnt different playing styles and trained with different (types) of players,” he said, adding that he is more consistent in training after finishing national service and also more focused.
For instance, he could not adapt well to the draught in the first game yesterday but managed to attack more in the second.
“In the third game, I just kept reminding myself to stay focused and not make simple errors,” he added.
Yeo, 19, reached the quarter-finals of a fifth-tier event for the first time but fell to Indonesia’s world No. 33 Fitriani Fitriani on Friday.
Said world No. 53 Yeo: “From this competition, I’ve seen how certain things I’ve prepared for work well… (namely) physical conditioning and footwork, which affect my shots and game play.”
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