SUDIRMAN CUP SF – Seo and Sung bring Siam sunset

As they did back in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Korea halted Thailand in the round of last four.  The 3-1 tie outcome was repeated, as was Sung Ji Hyun rendering […]

As they did back in 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Korea halted Thailand in the round of last four.  The 3-1 tie outcome was repeated, as was Sung Ji Hyun rendering Ratchanok Intanon’s contribution ineffective.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Gold Coast.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Thailand seemed poised to surpass their previous best at the .  Let’s recap.  Coming into the tournament, their squad could boast appearances in finals at level in all but women’s doubles post-Olympics.  In the same period, Korea’s three top 10 men’s doubles pairs became retired servicemen, including then world #1 Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong, and recent mixed doubles world #1 Kim Ha Na / Ko Sung Hyun apparently disbanded.  This week the Thais were traveling on a wave of rapture after ousting second-seeded Denmark on Thursday night, where their scratch women’s pair allayed concerns in that discipline by defeating the world #2 and Rio Olympic silver medallists in straight games.

So what went wrong?

Puavaranukroh swimming at the Gold Coast

Actually, the semi-final started off swimmingly from the Thais’ perspective with a hot performance through casting Sapsiree Taerattanachai / Dechapol Puavaranukroh in mixed doubles.  Exacting a 21-16, 21-12 punch, the world #9 Thais reduced world #14 Chae Yoo Jung / Choi Sol Gyu to ordinariness.

Dechapol Puavaranukroh’s stamp was all over this match.  He ran rings around his opponents’ schemes, manoeuvred them into side-by-side submission then ended rallies with what could become his signature shot, a dazzling leap on drop shots into the middle.  Sapsiree Taerattanachai witnessed her partner captain for a change and was happy to provide quiet support with delicate net replies that enticed Chae’s jersey into mopping the floor.

Chae was given few opportunities to come forward and athletically hover to swat around the net.  The Thai defence found incredible flat and fast timing so that even when Chae was front, her role was made redundant.  By 15-19 in the first game, the Koreans were yet to find their measure of a pumped up Puavaranukroh and remained stuck in generic mode for the rest of the match.

Elder statesmen

In the absence of Boonsak Ponsana, elder statesmenhood was bestowed on Suppanyu Avihingsanon.  The men’s singles world #62 submitted the kind of performance Thailand wanted, which was to be in the best possible position of stealing a tie point where the odds on paper were low.

The 27-year-old Avihingsanon, who was part of Thailand’s 2010 Asian Games bronze medal-winning men’s team, was completely fine at retrieving acute drop shots which Thailand’s first and second singles players, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk and Khosit Phetpradab, could not resolve this week.  Another credit to Avihingsanon was that he hit the ground running, there was no lull or warming up of composure required, especially given the seriousness of a semi-final occasion and it being his first appearance in the tournament.

Korea again relied upon their new world #1 Son Wan Ho to make matters in the tie even again and it took 80 minutes, almost twice the length of any other match.  With Avihingsanon’s game so stable, Son had to execute winners time and again.  The Korean daring to smash closer to the lines succeeded at breaking ahead of their neck-and-neck rubber game 17-17 scoreline and he went straight through to finish it 18-21, 21-10, 21-17.  The result was that Thailand had made the best selection under the circumstances, Avihingsanon’s performance fulfilled KPIs (key performance indicators), and the world #1 really proved he is one.

Son’s wizardry is so subtle as to be almost imperceptible.  More and more like Korea’s previous and first ever men’s singles world #1, Lee Hyun Il, Son Wan Ho’s process is to warm up all his instincts according to his own internal time and believe this to be the right way.  If it is not soon enough on one occasion, or the opponent does a fluke, the mature Korean continues to retain the self belief in this long term outlook.  More is achieved in a singles player’s development by not rushing the process.

Unripe Thai fruit

Nobody could have predicted how men’s doubles would go.  Koreans Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae in only their second international appearance together supplied the second tie point, 21-13, 21-16, over an equally green partnership, Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Bodin Isara in their own second outing, but first this week.

Puavaranukroh was unable to recapture the spirit of his Saturday overture.  The young Thai committed multiple unforced errors on kills at the net his team had set up.

Unlike their women’s doubles ploy, Thailand miscalculated by using a scratch pair in men’s doubles as it was their first time and coming in the semi-finals.  Doubles is a partnership and Dechapol Puavaranukroh with Bodin Isara were less than the sum of their parts.  Little strategic movement in their feet was evidence.  The Koreans were clearly more practiced together behind the scenes and rotated on court proactively as part of a plan.

Where the Koreans’ defence stance was too deep to be effective in mixed, the same could be said for the Thai men’s doubles.  Seo Seung Jae had completely read his opponents by 15-15 in the second game.  The left-handed Seo displayed flair in cross-court shots from both sides, typically dropping from the forehand side and smashing deadly off-forehands as he traversed the court.

If there was ever a time for Thailand to headline in men’s doubles over Korea it was now.  It could have been fruitful with more time together because the two Thai players do possess distinctive qualities which normally outweigh plain trained skills.

Sung sunk Intanon

Ratchanok Intanon lining up 4th fourth was strategically ideal too but didn’t produce the desired effect of a lifeline for women’s doubles to save the semi-final overall or try their luck at taking down the next below the Danes in the rankings, world #3 All England champions Lee So Hee / Chang Ye Na.  Thailand’s former women’s singles World Champion was a pale shadow of her selfish 2016 incarnation that hugged three Superseries titles in consecutive weekends.

World #4 Sung Ji Hyun won in straight games over Intanon for a third time since December, taking it 21-13, 21-17.  In a foreboding, Sung had also defeated Intanon at Thailand’s previous Sudirman semi-final.

Sung instantly punished Intanon’s uncharacteristically short clears.  Intanon did produce more of the lovely strokes and angles for which she is known but her aim was frequently wide by a lot this afternoon.

“I don’t feel very well today,” explained Intanon.  “I am experiencing some breathing problems.  There was a lot of pressure on me also because I needed to win this match.  At the start I wasn’t playing well but in the end I came good but it was too late.

“I just felt the pressure and was really nervous.  It just made everything really slower.”

Semi-final 1 result: Korea 3, Thailand 1
XD:  Choi Sol Gyu / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) lost to Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  16-21, 12-21
MS:  Son Wan Ho (KOR) beat Suppanyu Avihingsanon (THA)  18-21, 21-10, 21-17
MD:  Choi Sol Gyu / Seung Jae Seo (KOR) beat Bodin Isara / Dechapol Puavaranukroh (THA)  21-13, 21-16
WS:  Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) beat Ratchanok Intanon (THA)  21-13, 21-17
WD:  Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee vs.  Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA) [not played]

Click here for complete semi-final results

 

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Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @ badzine.net