He did not expect to stand on the podium on his SEA Games debut, but now that he is assured of walking away from the Singapore Indoor Stadium with a medal around his neck, Loh Kean Yew is daring to dream.
The 17-year-old shuttler coasted to victory in his men's singles quarter-final against Cambodia's Chanmara Tep yesterday, winning 21-7, 21-7 in a mere 14 minutes.
There are no third-place play-offs in the badminton tourney, with both losing semi-finalists getting an automatic bronze, but Kean Yew wants more.
"This is my first SEA Games and, honestly, I wasn't aiming to get a medal. Now I've already got a bronze, I'm aiming higher," he said with a smile, even if he will be facing an opponent who is miles ahead in the world order.
In today's semi-final, Kean Yew will face Malaysian Arif Abdul Latif, who is ranked 67th in the world.
It was the same attitude with which the 139th-ranked Singaporean approached his unranked Cambodian in the quarter-finals.
"My opponent was not so strong today... but before the match, I wasn't thinking about how fast I can beat him, or anything like that... I still gave it my all," said the boy who grew up in Penang, and moved to the Singapore when he was 13.
"I kept telling myself not to underestimate him."
Neither will Kean Yew give too much respect to Arif.
The teenager initially thought he would face Thailand's Boonsak Ponsana, the world No. 30, who fell 2-1 to Arif in the quarter-finals.
But the prospect of facing an opponent capable of a player of Boonsak's calibre did not faze him.
Said Kean Yew: "I'm going to analyse the video from the team event and also his early singles matches. Hopefully, I can beat him."
Cue optimistic laugh.
Kean Yew is the only Singa-porean left in the men's singles, after 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medalist Derek Wong fell to Thailand's world No. 22, Tan-ongsak Saensomboonsuk, in the earlier quarter-final fixture yesterday.
Wong lost 18-21, 21-17, 13-21, after Tanongsak turned up the heat in the final set.
"He controlled the net better than I did, and he dictated the game - everything was in his control," said Singapore's world No. 52.
"I tried to initiate change, but he adapted fast. If the gap wasn't so big in the third set, I think I'd have been able to catch up."
"I am disappointed that I didn't make the semis, of course," added Wong, who at that point - before Kean Yew stepped out onto the court - asserted that his compatriot would qualify for the semi-finals. with the sport when he was aged seven, before bullies saw him drop his racket for two years before he picked it up again at nine.
Within six months, he found himself in the Penang state team.
It is the same can-do attitude he is bringing to this afternoon's semi-final at 4.30pm.
"I am the underdog, I've got nothing to lose... I will give 110 per cent," he said, as he prepares to line up against Arif who sits 72 spots above him in the world rankings.
"It's not impossible," said Kean Yew, pausing, perhaps to weigh the odds.
"Yeah, it's not impossible."
This article was first published on June 15, 2015.
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