Even on the eve of the biggest day of his career, Kunlavut Vitidsarn appeared remarkably composed.
Having taken his place in the final of the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022, and expecting to face Viktor Axelsen the next day, Vitidsarn looked self-assured, despite the overwhelming odds against him.
“I want to play Viktor Axelsen, because he’s the best right now,” he declared. “I want to learn from him, how he can play so well at every tournament. There’s no pressure on me as he’s the favourite.”
If there was little surprise that the three-time world junior champion was in the running for the senior world title, it was because of the consistent results that the Thai has been producing over the last two years. Last year was his breakthrough season; this year he has continued to consolidate his gains. Following his silver medal finish at the World Championships, Vitidsarn made the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time.
Like his contemporary Lakshya Sen, Vitidsarn’s transition to the senior ranks has been rapid; but even in his junior years, he gave the impression that he belonged at the highest level.
This assurance was obvious all through the week of the World Championships, when he dwelt not on his upcoming opponents but of his own control of the conditions – conveying that, as long as he could make the necessary adjustments in the drift, he wasn’t unduly troubled by what most opponents could throw at him.
The final showcased this ability to adapt. Blown away in the opening game by Axelsen, Vitidsarn calmly regrouped in the second, keeping the big Dane on his toes with a patient, clever mix of shots. He had the edge at 11-10 before Axelsen’s greater experience and sense of opportunism eventually broke the Thai’s challenge. The world No.1 was impressed.
“Vitidsarn’s a great guy, he’s strong mentally and physically,” said Axelsen. “I knew it would be a tough game. I’m happy with the way I responded to his gameplan in the second. He made it hard for me and I stiffened up a little bit, but I turned it around again.
“He’s a cool guy, on and off the court. He’s 21, and we’ve already played a few matches against each other, and also in other finals. I think there’s many good things for him to come. Hopefully we can have many good matches in future.”