SINGAPORE — He is the new badminton world champion. He has also climbed to his highest-ever world ranking position at No.15. But shuttler Loh Kean Yew insists he is far from the finished product, and still a long way to go from matching contemporary greats such as Viktor Axelsen and Kento Momota.
The 24-year-old returned to Singapore on Tuesday (21 December) after his triumphant BWF World Championships in the Spanish city of Huelva, where he became the first Singaporean to clinch the prestigious world title.
The gleaming gold medal he proudly held up to the welcoming media huddle – as well as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Edwin Tong – is one of the pinnacles of Loh's sport, but he insisted that there are still many aspects of his game that he could improve on.
"Yes, I'm now the world champion, but there (is) still a long way for me to go. Compared to the top players like Viktor (Axelsen) and (Kento) Momota, there's a lot more that I can learn from them, such as court fitness and how they handle all the pressure," he said during a media conference at Changi Experience Studio shortly after completing his on-arrival COVID-19 test.
"This is just a new beginning for me. I'm no longer the underdog, now I'm going to be one of those people that other players want to beat badly. It's going to be a very different mindset for me from now on."
Returning to Dubai to train with Axelsen again
Despite the long flight home from Huelva, Loh wore a wide grin as he greeted the media together with Singapore Badminton Association president Lawrence Leow, and patiently answered the barrage of questions from the journalists.
He revealed that the first thing he wants to do upon returning is to go home and eat, and then lie on his comfortable bed, which he had missed a lot. After that, he would need to seek treatment on his ankle, which he had rolled during his quarter-final tie with India's HS Prannoy. But his injury failed to derail his title bid as he gritted through the discomfort.
Next month, he will return to Dubai to train again with world No.1 Axelsen, similar to the one-month stint he had with the reigning Olympic champion after August's Tokyo Olympics – a stint widely seen as instrumental to his outstanding form in the past three months.
When Yahoo News Singapore asked him if he was surprised at his sudden and rapid improvement that led to his world title triumph, Loh said, "Definitely. I mean, it has always been my goal to reach the top, but I didn't expect this to happen so soon.
"Even during my training stint with Viktor, there wasn't any point which I thought I had made a huge jump. But it was during the competitions I had after that, when I tried out what I've learnt against other opponents, that's when I saw the difference results-wise."
Defeated top four players in the world amid red-hot form
Besides his World Championships win, Loh had also clinched the Dutch Open and the Hylo Open in Germany, and came in second behind Axelsen in the BWF World Tour Super 1000-level Indonesia Open.
Along the way, he defeated six of the top-10 men's shuttlers in the world, including the top four players: Axelsen, Momota, Denmark's Anders Antonsen and Taiwan's Chou Tien-chen.
In the new badminton world rankings released on Tuesday, Loh climbed from No.22 to No.15, his highest-ever ranking. It was a far cry from the modest No.41 spot he had held before his red-hot form started in October.
He has also gained a lot of new admirers following his World Championships exploits. And quite a few of them have noticed the interesting coincidence that his initials are the same as Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
How does he feel about such an association? Loh broke into laughter, before replying, "Name not I chose one, but it's nice lah."
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