Triumphant ‘Thai-tans’! – Day 5 (Session 2): TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO AND SHI TANG

The inspired, yet unheralded pairing of two of the many Women’s Doubles players who have come to the fore for Thailand recently provided a sensational shock tonight, ousting Denmark from the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2017 in emphatic fashion.

Locked 2-2 in Thailand’s nail-biting quarter-final against the No.2 seeds at Gold Coast Sports & Leisure Centre, Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai (featured image) coolly took to the court and inflicted a battering on the stellar partnership of Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl who were expected, as they have done countless times before, to deliver the decisive point for the European champions.

Instead, it was the scratch duo across the net – in just their second match together – who dominated and dictated from start to finish, romping to a spell-binding 21-15 21-12 triumph in 44 minutes to end the Danes’ error-strewn misery; catapulting Thailand into the headlines and indeed into the medal round. Inconsolable and stunned, Pedersen and Rytter Juhl trudged from the court as their conquerors were swept up in celebration with their joyous team.

“We didn’t pressure ourselves. We tried to stay calm and move them around a lot and not let them settle into the match because they are really good when they get into their rhythm,” said 24-year-old Kititharakul in the wake of the memorable 3-2 success.

Taerattanachai, 25, was also pleased to win Mixed Doubles for her country with Dechapol Puavaranukroh; 21-19 21-19 against Mathias Christiansen/Sara Thygesen. Thailand’s other point came compliments their Women’s Singles standard-bearer, Ratchanok Intanon, who was clearly a cut above Line Kjærsfeldt in their first meeting (21-15 21-14). It came at a crucial stage, with Thailand trailing 1-2 after Viktor Axelsen’s commanding Men’s Singles victory against Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (21-15 21-6) and a stirring Men’s Doubles comeback by Mads Conrad-Petersen/Mads Pielder Kolding when all seemed lost versus Bodin Isara/ Nipitphon Phuangphuapet (15-21 21-18 21-16).

Even as Intanon outclassed her opponent, Danish fans felt certain their dependable Women’s Doubles duo would see them to safety but, it was not to be, amid a dynamic onslaught which made the Olympic silver medallists uncharacteristically unsure about their shots and movement. Playing like seasoned partners, Taerattanachai and Kititharakul became increasingly assertive as they switched sides, almost bullying their way to the finish as the neon scoreboard rapidly ticked over in their favour. A thunderous smash by Taerattanachai bisected the out-of-sorts Danes down the middle and, at 19-10, it was all but over.

“This is a big surprise – for us too!” declared delighted Thailand coach, Grithtin Kridtanukoon.

“During our training for this tournament, we mixed and matched different players and these two played well together. They have a good chemistry, though they usually have different partners. We decided to try this combination and it was the key to beating Denmark today. Maybe we will try this pair again.”

Moments later, Thailand learnt their semi-final opponents will be Korea; the latter avenging yesterday’s group-stage loss to Chinese Taipei.

Seizing an unassailable 3-1 advantage – also finalised by their Women’s Doubles exploits, thanks to Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee (21-13 21-18 versus Hsu Ya Ching/Wu Ti Jung) – the Koreans were fittingly steered towards the last four by a resolute performance from new Men’s Singles world No.1, Son Wan Ho. So often shrouded in disappointment for failing to live up to his talent, Son composed himself after dropping the opening game and set about repairing the damage. At 14-6 in the second game, he looked set for a decider only to suddenly find himself fighting to stay alive as Chou levelled at 16-16. A determined Son survived that blip and wrestled control from his rival in the third game. However, leads of 13-8 and 17-13 almost came to nought as a fired-up Chou clawed back into reckoning, even holding match points at 20-18.

On his second match point, the Chinese Taipei ace thought he had it won as Son hit deep and the shuttle was called out but an instant review gave Son a lifeline and he clung to it tightly, even saving a third match point before clinching victory: 13-21 21-18 23-21 in 91 gruelling minutes.

“I felt anxious when I lost the first game but I had to focus and get on top in the match. It was tough and I am very glad to have won,” said Son who turned 29 last week.

Korea also triumphed in a fiery Men’s Doubles battle, with Choi Solgyu and Seo Seung Jae getting past Lee Jhe Huei and Lee Yang, 21-16 14-21 21-17. Chinese Taipei’s lone success was in Women’s Singles, with Tai Tzu Ying defeating Sung Ji Hyun, 21-14 26-24.

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