SINGAPORE — Three weeks after becoming Singapore's first badminton world champion, Loh Kean Yew returned to the competitive grind of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) tour circuit - and returned to winning ways too.
The 24-year-old, now ranked a career-high world No.15 following his monumental BWF World Championships triumph in Huelva last month, took 50 minutes to beat Canada's Sheng Xiaodong 16-21, 21-4, 21-13 in his opening-round men's singles match at the India Open in New Delhi on Tuesday (11 January).
In his first match as the reigning world champion, Loh took a while to get going as he lost the opening set against his 69th-ranked opponent. However, the Singaporean stepped up a gear in the second set, winning 10 consecutive points en route to tying up the match, before comfortably putting Sheng away in the third.
Loh - who is seeded fifth at the tournament - will next face Malaysia's world No.70 Soong Joo Ven in the round of 16 of the Open, which is a BWF World Tour Super 500-level event and carries a total prize purse of US$400,000 (S$542,000).
Soong, 26, easily defeated India's Chirag Sen 21-8, 21-7 in their first-round match.
Loh will be hoping to build on his stellar form in the final months of 2021, when he captured two tour titles - the Dutch Open and the Hylo Open in Germany - in addition to his World Championships victory.
After returning home for the Christmas holidays following his Huelva triumph, he flew to Dubai at the start of the month to resume training with world No.1 Viktor Axelsen. His earlier stint with the Dane following last August's Tokyo Olympics was largely credited as the spark that led to his superb late-2021 form.
Loh has set his sights on winning an Olympic medal for Singapore, but has also acknowledged that the road ahead will be tougher, now that he will no longer be viewed as the underdog after becoming the world champion.
Meanwhile, his compatriot Yeo Jia Min also got off to a winning start in her women's singles competition, beating the United States' Disha Gupta 21-7, 21-10 in 23 minutes.
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