‘Not possible to not feel any pressure’: Loh Kean Yew on being world champion and his golden SEA Games dream
SINGAPORE: Since he was crowned badminton world champion last December, life has turned on its head for 24-year-old Loh Kean Yew.
Off the court, he is now a recognised man.
Be it on the street, in the train or at the food court near where he trains as workers there stop to ask how he has been.
On the court, he is a marked man.
His moves are studied, his strokes analysed, his game scrutinised under a microscope.
Many things have changed since his historic win, but Loh's desire to shine at the SEA Games remains.
This year's Games will be Loh's fourth, and it is a competition he holds particularly close to his heart.
"SEA Games is one of the Games where you can represent Singapore with the rest of the contingent. It'll feel different," the world No 10 told CNA over the phone from Bangkok where he and the national men's team were competing in the Thomas Cup.
At the 2015 Games, Loh clinched bronze in the men's singles, his first medal at the regional meet.
"Previously, I saw that I could play well with senior and high-ranked players. But the SEA Games was the first major Games that I proved myself."
And it was then that he decided to quit school to focus on badminton full-time.
"It was like evidence (that gave me) confidence (to make that decision). It was a good sign for me," Loh explained.
While he missed out on a medal in 2017, Loh would secure a silver two years later, losing to Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia in the final.
"I've gotten bronze and silver in the individual event, but have never gotten gold before. Naturally, that is my goal, my target," he said. "It's been a long time since we last won a men's singles gold ... It definitely means a lot to me."
The last time Singapore won the men's singles at the SEA Games was in 1983 on home soil, courtesy of Wong Shoon Keat.
'I DEFINITELY NEED TO IMPROVE'
It has been an extremely packed 2022 for Loh, having competed in six tournaments in as many months.
His most recent came in the Thomas Cup - where the Singapore men's team put up fell to three defeats - 1-4 to defending champions Indonesia, 2-3 to South Korea and 2-3 to Thailand.
However, Loh notched victories in each of his singles' matches, most notably beating Indonesia's world No 5 Anthony Ginting.
In the four individual tournaments he has competed this year, Loh has made one final, where he lost to India's Lakshya Sen in the India Open.
At his first All-England tournament, he would stretch world No 3 Anders Antonsen, but he eventually lost 15-21, 21-18, 13-21 in an opening-round match that lasted 74 minutes.
"At the end of last year, my performance shot up very fast. I think it is quite common that there is a drop because now everybody is analysing my game," he told CNA. "I can't peak all the time .. . so definitely there will be losses along the way."
Consistency, the Singaporean pointed out, is an area he needs to work on.
"At the time (of the World Championships), I was more consistent, but my consistency has dropped. So it is about how to manage it throughout," he said. "I do stress over the small things because I want to be as consistent as possible ... (Every day) I want to try to become better than I was yesterday."
After his World Championships triumph, Loh is also learning to deal with expectations, both from others and from himself.
"It's not possible to not feel any pressure. I'm trying to face it head-on, acknowledge that I am the world champion and also accept the pressure and focus on the progress," he said.
At the same time, the Singaporean recognises that the road to improving is a step-by-step process, and he is keeping himself grounded. "That's how the nature of progress is," he added.
While the constant travelling has admittedly taken a toll, it is not an excuse, he pointed out, before adding: "I definitely need to improve. Both in terms of performances and results."
The SEA Games in Hanoi may be his seventh competition of the year, but he is not complaining.
It's one trip he wouldn't want to miss. And a gold medal would make the journey all the more sweet.