Loh Kean Yew gives world No. 7 Jonatan Christie a scare
But Singapore contingent receive fright of their own as the Badminton World Federation reveals positive Covid-19 tests at the Yonex Thailand Open
After nearly a year without smashing a shuttlecock in a tournament setting, Singaporean Loh Kean Yew rated his return to action as a seven-out-of-10 as he pushed world No. 7 and Asian Games champion Jonatan Christie all the way at the Yonex Thailand Open yesterday.
The men's singles world No. 38 showed little sign of rust, especially when he outclassed the Indonesian in the first set, before eventually succumbing 13-21, 21-10, 21-16 at the Impact Arena in 65 minutes.
Before the first-round tie in the Thai capital, Loh had not competed since last February as Covid-19 disrupted the international badminton circuit.
Yet, he rekindled memories of his career-defining moment in Bangkok, where he beat badminton legend Lin Dan in the Thailand Masters final in 2019, as he led virtually from start to finish in the first set.
Loh, 23, told The New Paper: "It was only the first set, it was too early for celebration. I had to focus on the next set...
"He played a great game and he is much more consistent than I am... I still have a lot to work on...There's not much time left (before the Tokyo Olympics), I got to buck up a little more."
The other Singaporeans in action yesterday,the women's doubles pair of Crystal Wong and Jin Yujia, lost to Thailand's Laksika Kanlaha and Atitaya Povanon 12-21, 21-15, 21-18 in one hour.
Singapore's women's singles world No. 26 Yeo Jia Min will begin her campaign today against home favourite and former world champion Ratchanok Intanon, who is the world's fifth-ranked player.
Meanwhile, fellow former women's world No. 1 Saina Nehwal sparked worries at the tournament after testing positive for Covid-19.
The Indian was one of four players whose tests on Monday returned positive results. The other three who had initially tested positive are fellow Indian H. S. Prannoy, Germany's Jones Ralfy Jansen and Egyptian Adham Hatem Elgamal.
However, last night, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) said that Nehwal, Prannoy and Jansen have been cleared to resume action while Elgamal has withdrawn from the tournament.
Retests of their samples revealed negative results for all except Nehwal. They then underwent a second Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and an antibody blood test.
The Thai medical authorities concluded that Nehwal, Prannoy and Jansen had contracted Covid-19 in the past but "are not infected and do not pose a danger" as they returned positive antibody blood tests.
A positive antibody test means a person has been infected with the virus at some juncture but does not mean he is currently infected.
Elgamal, meanwhile, tested positive for Covid-19 but had no antibodies for the virus. He is quarantining at a hospital for a minimum of 10 days.
Said Loh: "Anyone here will definitely be concerned, so it's important for... everyone of us to do our part to stay safe."
The Singapore Badminton Association said in a statement: "So far, all our Team Singapore athletes have tested negative. We have also put in place additional safety measures for our athletes, right from the start of the tournament.
"For example, all our athletes are required to stay within our own 'Singapore bubble'... except when they are playing... to further minimise interactions with individuals from other countries."