Friday, August 23, 2019
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE | BADMINTONPHOTO
Kantaphon Wangcharoen, whose name has graced the periphery of the men’s singles conversation this season, stole the headlines tonight at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019, becoming the first Thai player to medal in that category.
The 20-year-old’s stunning quarterfinal triumph led a historic evening for his country which also progressed to the semifinals of women’s singles and mixed doubles, thanks to Ratchanok Intanon and the pairing of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai respectively.
Their collective achievement marked Thailand’s first hat-trick of medals in the annals of badminton’s World Championships, with at least three bronzes guaranteed. However, while few would have been surprised by the success of Wangcharoen’s more accomplished teammates, it was the unassuming youngster – still honing his craft – who set tongues wagging inside a packed St. Jakobshalle.
What A Debut!
Playing with nothing to lose in his World Championships debut, Wangcharoen withstood a gritty fightback by one of the leading title contenders – Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei – to savour the most memorable moment of his fledgling career. As his rival netted the final shot, the underdog celebrated his 21-16 11-21 21-14 victory gleefully.
“I am so happy. I am very surprised. I gave my all,” said the breathless winner, who had lost all four previous matches versus the No.2 seed.
Earning the crowd’s admiration, Wangcharoen carved his path to glory through an energetic and brave attacking display that ultimately wore down the usually resolute Chou, who was also hunting his first World Championship medal. Thunderous blows flew past the 29-year-old from all angles and he appeared powerless to stop the No.12 seed from grabbing the opening game. Stung into response, Chou was off to a flyer in the second game and quickly levelled the honours. Just when it seemed Chou’s experience would see him home, Wangcharoen’s fighting spirit returned and, from 8-8, he never relinquished the advantage.
A monster smash took him to 20-14 and, shortly thereafter, the deal was sealed.
“The semifinal will be tough but, again, I will try my best,” vowed Wangcharoen who will have to beat Denmark’s Anders Antonsen to reach Sunday’s showpiece final.
Once more, the seasoned Chou was left wondering why he failed to reach the World Championships’ medal rounds.
“This was a good opportunity for me. I led 7-3 in the final game but I lost focus. I will need to analyse what happened. He was very fast and it was difficult to get a chance…His smash was really tough to defend,” said the world No.2 player who has excelled this year.
Meanwhile, Intanon took care of business against another blossoming player, Yeo Jia Min, brushing aside the Singaporean, 21-17 21-11, to advance to the semifinals for the first time since she became world champion at age 18 in 2013.
“Finally, after six years I’m in the semifinals again,” declared a relieved Intanon. “After almost losing yesterday, I felt this is my chance. Today, I played my game and I didn’t let her control me.”
As for her semifinal against Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, the 24-year-old is prepared for long, tiring rallies against the No.3 seed with whom she has a good rapport. Asked if she would speak to Okuhara overnight, Intanon laughed and replied “maybe about what colours we will wear tomorrow”.
In mixed doubles, Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai were unfazed by the challenge of Netherlands duo, Robin Tabeling/Selena Piek. The Thai No.4 seeds demolished their opponents, 21-11 21-7, in just 31 minutes and were thrilled to be part of a great night for their team.
“It’s the first time we can get at least third place – but I want more,” said Taerattanachai candidly. “We are happy that Thailand can get three medals.”
Chinese Taipei Empty-Handed
By contrast, a promising campaign turned terrible for Chinese Taipei, with Chou’s defeat ending their medal aspirations at the Championships.
Earlier, Tai Tzu Ying fell to an inspired Pusarla V Sindhu in women’s singles and men’s doubles pair, Liao Min Chun/Su Ching Heng, succumbed to Indonesian veterans, Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (21-17 21-19).