Singapore badminton star Loh Kean Yew up to world No. 3 in ‘crazy’ year

Loh Kean Yew's consistency in 2022 means he is poised to qualify for the first time for the Dec 14-18 BWF World Tour Finals. - The Star/ANN

SINGAPORE, Nov 8 (The Straits Times/ANN): He is one of the quickest men on the badminton court, but even Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew has surprised himself at the speed with which he has shot up the world rankings.

About a year ago, he was 40th. On Tuesday, he rose from No. 5 to a career-high No. 3 to match Zarinah Abdullah, who reached the same milestone in 1994 in the women’s singles. No Singaporean has been in the top-two.

Loh, 25, said: “It’s a great honour and I hope I can inspire more people with this achievement. It’s been a crazy year because so many things have happened at a mad pace.

“A year ago, I was just looking to break into the top 30 and make it to the higher-tier events. Previously, I was often on the reserve list and had to pray I can qualify; my fate was determined by others withdrawing.

“To be in the top three was a career goal. So, this feels surreal and I’m very grateful I can be on this miraculous journey.”

When asked if the No. 1 spot is a new target, Loh, who is back home for Thursday’s Singapore Sports Awards where he is nominated for the Sportsman of the Year, added: “Who doesn’t want to be No. 1? But to be honest, Viktor Axelsen has been in beast mode in recent years, so it would be quite hard for anyone to catch up with him for now.

“There has also been a wave of young talents who are making the circuit very competitive and interesting. I can only continue to work hard to try and do well in tournaments, and the rankings will take care of itself.”

With eight titles in 2022, Danish world and Olympic champion Axelsen holds a near-unassailable lead with 120,606 points, followed by Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia (92,528) and Loh (82,874).

Loh moved past Denmark’s Anders Antonsen (now fifth, 78,400 points) and Taiwanese Chou Tien-chen (fourth, 81,256) as the Badminton World Federation continues to gradually unfreeze and remove points earned in 2021.

The points had remained as competitions were totally suspended from March to October in 2020 and many others were postponed after that during the pandemic. Only the 10 highest point tallies are counted in the world ranking tabulation.

In his first year of playing in all the top-tiered competitions on the BWF World Tour, Loh has reached at least the quarter-finals in 11 of 15 events (seven of 11 on the World Tour) in 2022.

This consistency also means he is poised to qualify for the first time for the Dec 14-18 BWF World Tour Finals, reserved for the top eight in the Race to Guangzhou ranking.

Loh was 27th in May, and still only 11th before the European swing in October. But a semi-final appearance at the Denmark Open and quarter-final runs at the French and Hylo Opens helped him overtake China’s Zhao Junpeng and Lu Guangzu, India’s Lakshya Sen and Lee into seventh place.

Loh said: “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t keeping track every week, and it has been both exciting and stressful because the points are very close and towards the end, you could be left behind after one bad outing.”

With just the Nov 15-20 Australian Open left, Loh just needs to beat India’s Mithun Manjunath in the first round to seal his spot at the prestigious season-ender. In 2021, female shuttler Yeo Jia Min became the first Singaporean to qualify for the World Tour Finals.

Loh said: “Now that I’ve put myself in a good position, I want to get the job done. That said, I have to maintain focus and prepare well because I also want to do well in the tournament.

“While I haven’t won a title this year, getting to the World Tour Finals would be a sign that I’m consistently making the latter rounds. I want to get better, and I’m working on it.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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