Day 1 of the 2012 edition of the SCG Thailand Open Grand Prix Gold saw the first two rounds of the men’s singles and the opening round of the women’s singles and mixed doubles disciplines completed at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Sports Complex. There were close calls for the top seeds and plenty of upsets to go around.
By Gerald Jew, Badzine Correspondent live in Bangkok. Photos: Gerald Jew (live) and Badmintonphoto (archives)
In an Olympic year where many players and teams are adjusting their schedules to gear up for the London Olympics, this year’s Thailand Open lacks many of the higher ranked players that past Thailand Opens have previously attracted.
This year’s Open is not without major talent though. China’s Lin Dan (pictured left) and India’s Saina Nehwal, who top the seedings in the men’s and women’s singles, and Denmark’s top-seeded mixed doubles pair of Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen, all came to Bangkok and each faced a stiff first round challenge rather than a Wednesday walk in the park.
Korea’s Ha Young Woong survived three rounds of matches in Tuesday’s qualifying, only to see himself pitted against the world’s number two ranked Lin Dan in Wednesday’s opening match of the men’s singles.
Ha was more than up for the challenge though, stretching the current Olympic and World Champion to three games and putting a major scare into the event’s organizers, who were facing the prospect of losing the tournament’s top player and major attraction in the first round.
The tall and powerful Ha smashed early and often to take the first game from Lin 21-19, frequently leaving Lin flat-footed and defenseless against the young Korean’s power game. Lin, sporting a new reddish-brown hair color, came back to take the second game easily 21-8 before facing an early challenge in the rubber game. Lin was finally able to pull away in the third game after the mid-game interval and complete the victory, 21-15.
Lin cited fatigue from China’s recent Thomas Cup win, and arriving in Bangkok too late to adjust to the Thai capital’s notorious heat and humidity as reasons he doesn’t expect too much from himself in this year’s Open. Lin had a much easier path to the third round, taking a relatively easy 21-11, 21- 13 victory from India’s K. Srikanth in Wednesday’s second round evening match.
Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana (pictured left) looked to be rounding into his old form after last year’s ankle surgery, easily defeating Hong Kong’s Ng Ka Long 21-7, 21-12 in his morning match and fellow countryman Thammisin Sittikorn 21-14, 21-13 in his second match of the day.
“I feel confident (although) my ankle is still not 100%,” Ponsana said after his evening match. “I’ve been working hard and I feel like I’m getting better.
“The Thailand Open is my country’s tournament, and is very important to me. My target is to make it to the quarter-finals, but I would like to play Lin Dan in the finals. I’ll try my best.”
Other men’s singles matches of note saw Spain’s number three-seeded Pablo Abian, Guatemala’s fifth-seeded Kevin Cordon, Japan’s tenth-seeded Takuma Ueda and Thailand’s eleventh- seeded Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk all given an early exit from the tournament. Tommy Sugiarto, the tournament’s number two seed, withdrew, leaving veteran Sony Dwi Koncoro as Indonesia’s best hope for a medal in the men’s draw.
India’s top-seeded Saina Nehwal also faced a stiff challenge in her opening match against unseeded Nichaon Jindapon of Thailand. After taking the first game 21-13, Nehwal lost the second game 16-21 before pulling away from a 12-12 tie in the third game to take the match 21-15.
About her tougher than expected match, Nehwal said, “She’s a local player and it was the first time I’ve played her. I watched her last year and she’s really improved. She’s obviously worked hard, her backhand and smash are very good now and she plays the long rallies well.”
Young Thai stars Ratchanok Intanon, the number two seed, third-seeded Porntip Buranaprasertsuk and 16-year-old Busanan Ongbamrungphan (pictured right), the recent Malaysia Open Grand Prix Gold winner, all easily advanced to Thursday’s second round.
Ongbamrungphan was asked what is was like to win the Malaysia Open, “It was just amazing, I was so happy. With Ratchanok, Porntip and Nichaon all playing well, I’m just so happy (to be part of it).”
Also moving into the second round and shuttlers to keep an eye on, among others, were former world number one, former World Champion Wang Lin of China (pictured left), India’s fourth-seeded 17-year-old P. V. Sindhu and Sun Yu of China, who upset fifth-seeded Carolina Marin of Spain.
Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen (pictured below), the top-seeded mixed doubles duo, also experienced difficulty in winning their opening match. The Korean pair of Kim Ki Jung and Kim So Young gave the Danes all they could handle, barely losing a tight second game 20-22, before their first round exit.
Two seeded Thai teams who were expected to do well, also were shown the exit door in the first round. The third seeds, Maneepong Jongjit and Savitree Amitrapai lost to Indonesia’s unseeded Fran Kurniawan and Shendy Puspa Irawati, 21-12, 11-21, 21-16. Fifth-seeded Songphon Anugritayawon and Kunchala Voravichitchaikul were upset by a Singapore pair, Terry Yeo and Dellis Yuliana, who beat the Thai pair by scores of 17-21, 10-21 and 21-19 in a close three-game match.
The second-seeded veteran Thai team of Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam survived three games of their own, finally pulling away at the end and winning by scores of 14-21, 21-15 and 21-16 over former top 10 player Pia Zebediah Bernadet, now playing with a new partner Hafiz Faisal.
The third round of the men’s singles will be completed on Thursday along with the second round of the women’s singles and mixed doubles, as well first round of the women’s and men’s doubles. Badzine will be on hand to cover the event live from Bangkok.