Badminton: S’pore shuttlers through to India Open finals as rivals withdraw with illness

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SINGAPORE – Without lifting a racket on Saturday (Jan 15), Singapore’s shuttlers Terry Hee and Tan Wei Han, and Loh Kean Yew have progressed to the India Open mixed doubles and men’s singles finals respectively after their opponents pulled out due to illness.

Hee and Tan had been scheduled to face Russia’s world No. 19 mixed doubles pair of Rodion Alimov and Alina Davletova in the semi-finals. But after winning their quarter-final on Friday (Jan 14), Alimov tested positive for Covid-19 and Davletova was identified as a close contact, forcing them to withdraw.

This allowed the world No. 182 Singaporean pair to stride through to their first BWF Super 500 final, where they will meet Malaysia’s 10th-ranked Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing or 40th-ranked Chen Tang Jie and Peck Yen Wei.

Hee, who also reached the men’s doubles quarter-finals with Loh Kean Hean, told The Straits Times: “I feel lucky and worried at the same time because all the players are risking our lives to be here competing.”

This is the second time the married couple have benefited from a walkover at the US$400,000 tournament (S$539,000), as they were also unchallenged in the second round after India’s Akshan Shetty and Simran Singhi withdrew.

Singhi was one of seven Indian players who had tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday (Jan 12), while Shetty was considered a close contact, resulting in 11 walkovers on Thursday. To date, there have been 24 walkovers at this year’s India Open.

As finalists, Hee and Tan, who were once ranked as high as 33rd in 2017, are assured of a significant leap in the world rankings, as well as their biggest pay cheque of at least US$15,200, with US$30,000 awaiting the champions.

But they will also have to cope with having played only two matches and just 56 minutes of competition at this event.

Tan, 28, said: “We haven’t been pleased with our performances on court, so having two walkovers is not good in the sense that it breaks our momentum and reduces our tournament feel.

“But we are definitely grateful for this opportunity to reach a Super 500 final… and we hope Rodion recovers soon. It’s good that our rankings will improve, as that gives us better leverage to register for higher-tiered tournaments.”

Hee, 26, added: “We just want to focus match-by-match, tournament-by-tournament as our performance is more important for us now. But of course, the prize money will help us make ends meet.”

In the men’s singles semi-finals, world champion and 15th-ranked Loh also advanced via walkover after his opponent, Canada’s 39th-ranked Brian Yang, fell ill.

Hence, the 24-year-old has reached his third straight final, where he will meet India’s world No. 17 Lakshya Sen or Malaysia’s world No. 60 Ng Tze Yong on Sunday.

Victory would likely see him break into the top 10 for the first time in his career.

Loh has been in great form of late, winning the lower-tier Dutch Open in October, Super 500 Hylo Open in Germany in November, and then the World Championships in December. He also lost to Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the final of the Super 1000 Indonesia Open in November.

He said: “I’m happy to reach the final but I was looking forward to playing against Brian. I hope he is okay and recovers as soon as possible.

“This walkover gives me more time to rest and prepare for the final match. I will need to stay focused and prepare myself to the fullest for the final.”

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