In the end, it was one giant too many for national shuttler Loh Kean Yew to overcome as he lost 21-13, 9-21, 21-13 to world No.2 Viktor Axelsen in the final of the Indonesia Open on Sunday (Nov 28).
Loh, the 24-year-old world No.26, had beaten higher-ranked opponents – most notably world No.1 Kento Momota – in his run to the final of the US$850,000 (S$1.16 million) Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour Super 1000 event at the Bali International Convention Centre.
But 27-year-old Dane Axelsen, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in August, proved too much for the Loh to overcome, despite the Singaporean rallying to win the second game after losing the first.
The loss ended Loh’s hopes of becoming the first Singaporean male player to qualify for the season-ending BWF Tour Finals which takes place next week also in Bali. A win would have seen him take the place of Thai world No.22 Kunlavut Vitidsarn.
Still, his run in Bali is the best performance by a Singaporean male shuttler since Ronald Susilo’s singles win at the Japan Open in 2004.
The Japan Open has been a Super 750 event – one tier lower than the Indonesia Open – since the BWF’s tournament tiers were introduced in 2018.
Loh, who stands at 1.75m, had trained with the 1.94m Axelsen in Dubai for a month in August and September, and he seemed unfazed standing across the court from the giant Dane on Sunday.
He held his own with a strong start in the first game, and was level at 6-6, but then faded for a spell and went on to lose 21-13. But Loh soon rediscovered his verve and stormed back to win the second game.
In the deciding game, Axelsen started more aggressively and built up a 15-8 lead after a long rally, and went on to see out the match.
Following his training stint in Dubai, Loh had kicked on to a fine run of form.
The Indonesia Open was his third singles final in two months, after wins at the Super 100 Dutch Open in October and the Super 500 Hylo Open earlier this month.
In recent weeks, he has also beaten a string of top players, most notably Momota, as well as Chinese Taipei’s world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen, Malaysia’s All England champion Lee Zii Jia (seventh), Taiwanese Wang Tzu-wei (11th), and India’s Lakshya Sen (19th).