January 13, 2023
SINGAPORE – Loh Kean Yew suffered a fourth straight defeat by Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn on Friday, bowing out of the Malaysia Open 21-11, 20-22, 21-14 in a gruelling 80-minute quarter-final.
Despite the loss, Loh, 25, said: “Overall, it’s not a bad start (to the year). I managed to perform up to my level and I was hoping for more, but there can be only one winner. I gave my all and now I’ll just prepare for the next one.
“I overcame some of my own expectations and barriers, which I’m quite happy about. It was a difficult match, but a very good game overall for us. We fought very hard, tried to keep getting points from each other and we both gave our all.
“There’s a lot (for me) to improve, but for now I’ll rest first, then prepare for the India Open next week and take it match by match.”
Kunlavut, 21, skilfully used his defensive abilities and precision to race to an 11-6 lead at the Axiata Arena, while Loh’s attempts to attack went wide or into the net, allowing the Thai world No. 9 to take the first game.
It was a similar story on the restart as the SEA Games champion quickly conjured a 7-0 lead, aided by his patience and comprehensive court coverage.
But world No. 6 Loh slowly chipped away at that gap, turning up the aggression and using his signature powerful smashes and wide range of shots to frazzle Kunlavut, who appeared to have no answers for once.
Loh, 25, took the lead for the first time in the match at 15-14 with a down-the-line smash and the lead exchanged hands before Loh took the second game 22-20 after a number of intense rallies.
Both players brought their A game in the decider, with the difference in points never going beyond two until Kunlavut’s cross-court drop shot gave him an 11-8 lead at the interval.
A few mistakes from Loh allowed his opponent to widen the gap with the toll on both players evident as they collapsed on the floor for a brief respite at 19-13 after Loh’s cross-court smash went wide.
But the Thai two-time world junior champion’s patience eventually wore Loh down with the Singaporean sending a shot wide at the baseline at match point as Kunlavut celebrated with a relieved smile. The pair exchanged a hug at the net later.
Loh, who coincidentally beat Chinese great Lin Dan in the Thailand Masters exactly four years ago today, said of his opponent: “Every time I play him is super challenging. He has grown a lot from when I first played him in 2015 and I’m happy to see him grow even more.
“He’s a strong fighter and he’s very skilful, so it’s not easy to play him. His defence is very good, so I need to think of ways to beat him.
“I’ve been trying to be consistent in my game and I think so far I have been and hopefully I will stay consistent.”
The Thai, who had also defeated Loh in the SEA Games final in May and in the quarter-finals of the world championships in August, now leads their head-to-head tally 4-1. He will face either Indian world No. 8 H.S. Prannoy or Japanese world No. 7 Kodai Naraoka for a spot in the final.
The tournament continues for Singapore with women’s doubles pair Jin Yujia and Crystal Wong taking on South Koreans Baek Ha-na and Lee Yu-lim in the last eight later on Friday.