Ratchanok Inthanon was the toast of the town as the teenage prodigy and the veteran duo Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam lifted the spirits of local fans at the packed CU Sports Complex by winning their semi-finals in the SCG Thailand Open Badminton Championships yesterday.
A full house of 2,500 roared in delight when Ratchanok outlasted former world No 1 Li Wang of China to reach the women's singles final. Thirty-two-year-old Saralee won both her semi-finals, with long-time partner Sudket in the mixed doubles and the women's doubles match with youngster Narissapat Lam, a Hong Kong-Thai.
Yasothorn-born Ratchanok, 17, displayed high quality badminton to keep the 2010 world champion on her heels, winning the match 21-13 21-19 in 39 minutes and avenging her loss to the former world No 1, who handed the Thai a 2-1 defeat in the Australian Open Grand prix Gold in April.
"I thought I was the underdog. But I stuck to my game plan, took the initiative and kept her off rhythm," said Ratchanok who is looking for her second Grand Prix trophy after winning in Lucknow, India, last December. But she must defeat top seed Saina Nehwal of India. The world No 5 survived the first game point at 19-20 to beat local third-seeded Porntip Buranaprasertsuk for the fifth time 24-22 21-11 in 42 minutes.
"I beat her once but she improved her game and defeated me the last time we played. If I keep playing to this level, and if the atmosphere is like this, I stand a good chance," said Ratchanok, who was overwhelmed to see the biggest home crowd in her life. She hoped their support would inspire her to upset the Indian, now 2-1 against her in their head-to-head meetings.
"I'm proud that fans still have not forgotten badminton. I have no pressure at all as their presence is good for me," said Ratchanok, the second Thai to reach the women's singles final after Somharuethai Charoensiri.
Saralee teamed up with Sudket to beat Singapore's Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Yu Yan Vanessa Neo 21-13 22-20 in the mixed doubles semi-finals first, then with Narissapat to shock top pair Xia Huan and Jinhua Tang of China 21-15 22-20.
"I normally don't play the women's doubles but I wanted to help Nirissapat gain more experience. It's quite exhausting to play two events and reach the finals. But I'm still fit at this stage of my career," said Saralee who had to settle for runners-up three times with Sudket in the event in 2004, 2006 and 2009. She and Sudket will take on China's Tao Jiaming and Junhua Tang, the surprise winners over top pair Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark 21-16 21-17, in today's mixed doubles final which will be live on Channel 7 at noon.
After blowing the first match point at 20-19, Sudket and Saralee wrapped up the encounter, thanks to two successive errors from their Singaporean rivals.
"We are playing well but still not at the top of our game. I wanted to play harder but Saralee is not in a position to do so as she has to play the women's doubles too. But it's good to be back in the final again," said Sudket.
"It's good to play the Chinese team as we are more familiar with their game. We know their game and we beat them a few times," said Sudket, the world No 9 with Saralee in the mixed category.
In the most stunning result of the day, top seed Lin Dan of China, the men's singles heavy-favourite, surrendered to Indonesian Sony Dwi Kuncoro 21-17 21-16. Lin claimed he had problem with the light at the stadium and lost his will to chase for shots at the last phase of the match. The Indonesian will meet Chen Yuekun, who toppled Huan Gao 21-14 21-15 in an all Chinese semi-finals.
In the other women's doubles semi-final, sixth-seeded Kunchala Voravichitchaikul and Duanganong Arronkesorn lost to Chinese fifth-seed Shu Cheng and Pan Pan 15-21 17-21. In the men's doubles, China's Xialong Liu and Zihan Qiu beat South Korean Ki Jung Kim and Sa Rang Kim 25-23 21-15, and Mohand Zakry Abdul Latif and Modh Fairuzizuan Modh Tazari beat Thien How Hoon and We Kiong Tan 22-20 21-15 in an all-Malaysian showdown.