Kunlavut Vitidsarn, the 22-year-old world No.3 whose nickname is View, had glimpsed the summit last year, but this time he completed the ascent. Thailand have their first men’s singles world champion.
It was every bit a hard trudge to the top. Kodai Naraoka, his opponent and contemporary from his junior days, put him through an excruciating test in a match of marathon rallies, quite unlike any World Championships men’s singles final seen in recent times. It lasted 109 minutes – one of the longest men’s singles matches ever. There were extended stoppages to wipe Vitidsarn’s blood off the mat after he’d thrown himself around in keeping the shuttle alive.
With Naraoka showing breathtaking defensive and retrieving abilities, Vitidsarn was required to play the waiting game, and he did. The result was interminable backline-to-backline exchanges, a slow chess game of sorts, with Vitidsarn attempting to inject pace at frequent intervals to get the openings.
It was a couple of points at the end of the second game that eventually put the final beyond the Japanese’s grasp. Vitidsarn, once again monk-like in demeanour, answered Naraoka in kind, not hesitating to engage in those marathon rallies, and once he’d taken it to a decider, the Japanese could challenge no further. Vitidsarn had beaten him at his own game in a masterly display of courage and patience.
After the match was won, Viditsarn would remember to dedicate the gold medal to his childhood coach who’d passed away, to whom he’d promised that he’d one day be world champion.
“I’m very happy, this has been a dream for me since I was a child,” said Vitidsarn. “When I was young I’d promised my coach that I would get the gold medal. He passed away, and I dedicate this gold medal to him.
“I had three targets when I was young – Olympic Games, World Championships and All England. Now I have achieved one of those, so two are left.
“I needed to be prepared for a long match with Kodai. We know each other’s game because we have played since our junior days. You have to be very patient with him, and it was very tiring, so I didn’t have any energy left to celebrate.”