SINGAPORE - He was dubbed the "Chinese Slayer" after eliminating four shuttlers from China in his fairy-tale run from the men's singles qualifiers to the final of the US$150,000 (S$204,000) Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters in Bangkok this past week.
On Sunday (Jan 13), Singapore's Loh Kean Yew, world No. 125, claimed the biggest scalp of them all when he beat Chinese badminton legend and world No. 13 Lin Dan 21-19, 21-18 in a pulsating match that lasted 46 minutes.
The 21-year-old Loh was not overawed by the occasion and showed great heart against the two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion.
Loh claimed the first two points in the first game but Lin's experience showed as he gradually pulled away to a 19-14 lead.
But instead of folding, Loh demonstrated admirable patience and purpose to take the next seven points and the first game.
The second game followed a similar vein, with Loh opening the scoring but Lin managing to open up a 13-6 gap. Remarkably, Loh again began to reel in his more illustrious opponent to the point that he had three match points.
The 35-year-old Lin saved one match point, but Loh was not to be denied, and recorded the biggest win of his fledgling career to pocket the US$11,250 winner's cheque.
This is the first time Loh reached the final of a Level 5 (Super 300) tournament on the Badminton World Federation's World Tour and won.
His victories over the Chinese shuttlers attracted the attention of the Chinese badminton fans, who complimented him on his technique, temperament, and even his boyish looks on Chinese digital sports media platform Sina Sports.
Ranked 125th, Loh had eliminated China's Sun Feixiang (121st), Liu Haichao (229th), Zhou Zeqi (56th) and Zhao Junpeng (47th) in the earlier rounds. In the quarter-final, he beat Chinese Taipei's Wang Tzu-wei (29th), before taming 30th-ranked Frenchman Brice Leverdez in the semi-finals.
In his post-match comments, Loh told the on-court interviewer: "It is really an honour to play with him (Lin) and I feel even more happy (that I won).
"He is very experienced and he caught a lot of my shots and it wasn't easy to stay patient against him.
"I tried to use my youth to my advantage, to try and outrun him, but of course, I am also very tired."
He later thanked his parents and his coaches for their unstinting support, and then turned to the crowd to thank the fans in the arena, who had cheered him on throughout the match.
The Thailand Masters is rated a Level 5 tournament on the BWF's World Tour, four rungs below its top-tiered US$1.5 million season finale.
Loh's four singles titles - the 2018 Mongolia International, 2017 Malaysia International, and 2014 and 2017 Singapore International - had come from the Grade 3 Continental Level International Series.
Loh and Yeo Jia Min had joined professional Danish clubs last October in the hopes of becoming better players and they are a step closer to achieving this goal, as evidenced by their performances during their first tournament of the year.
Yeo reached the quarter-finals of the women's singles.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.