THAILAND OPEN Finals – Indian youngsters tower over two towers

India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy / Chirag Shetty crouched low and leapt high as they stunned reigning World Champions Li/Liu to take the 2019 Thailand Open title. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent […]

India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy / Chirag Shetty crouched low and leapt high as they stunned reigning World Champions Li/Liu to take the 2019 title.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Bangkok.  Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto (live)

For a man who was told by his physiotherapist to avoid smashing, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy has certainly had to do his fair share of it this week.  Pulling off upset after upset in both mixed and men’s doubles this week, he didn’t need full power in the final as Satwik and Chirag Shetty (pictured) throve on steely concentration and clutch precision.

World Champions Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (pictured below) were on the back foot from the beginning of the first game, when the Indians took their first lead at 2-1.  It was impossible to tell which side the Thai spectators were favouring as both duos gave the crowd thrill upon thrilling rally.

It was neck-and-neck at the end of the first game but Rankireddy brought up game point on a perfect flick serve that left Li just spinning and the game ended soon afterwards with the Indians holding a one-point lead.  In the next two games as well, Chirag and Satwik took the lead late in the game but while the Chinese won the second on a 5-point run from 16-18 down in the second, the young underdogs held their nerve, and the lead, in the third and collapsed in disbelief when they secured the title in their first appearance in a final.

“Yesterday, I was crying in the room,” Satwik said, when asked to comment on the emotions on finals day.  “I didn’t imagine I would beat the Korean players whose games I used to watch on TV, “When I was young, I used to say ‘I have to play like Ko Sung Hyun’.  Those small, small things.

“And then again today in the third game, 11 points, I was thinking ‘Oh, I am playing finals.  Okay, come on!  Alert, alert.”  It’s like, we are almost beating the World Champions, so I was thinking ‘Okay, be free, no pressure’.

The Indian pair were not coy about discussing their winning strategy: “We know their game,” said Satwik.  “They are so good in attack so basically our strategy was to maintain our attack so we were trying to kill the shuttle every time and just to keep it going down, down, down.  That really worked well.”

On his amazing crouching, drive defense, Chirag said, “Well, I’m 6’1” and actually both of our opponents were rushing a lot towards the net.  Especially in the first two games, they were rushing a lot to the net and we got into a lot of flat rallies and in the end, after 11-8 in the third game, our coach asked us to – instead of play it again and again flat, flat – just to sit down and push it back so that was our main strategy, to sit down and push it.”

“My shoulder is worse.  I can’t really say.  It’s still hurting,” Satwik said of the injury he’s been dealing with this week.  “I was preparing in my mind, ‘It’s only one match, one match, until now you’ve worked really hard.  You don’t want to give up this one.’  Yeah, I was like so calm.

“And whenever I got the chance I was finishing it off because my opponents were really under pressure.  I could see them, they didn’t want to lift to me.”

Both players gave a lot of credit to the physical conditioning implemented earlier this year by their new coach Flandy Limpele, and how this has allowed them to get through 90-minute matches without fatigue.  Chirag Shetty also talked about the way this condition related to their game play and execution: “With the condition we are in, neither of us are tired even though both of us are carrying injuries and playing through pain and all we needed to do was just keep the shuttle as low as possible, instead of hitting again and again – because that hurts a lot – we hit a few smashes but in the right way.  We tried to vary our smashes in this tournament.

“Both of the Chinese players are pretty good in their defense but we were varying our smashes and waiting – instead of hitting hard 2 or 3 times – we were varying smashes with drops and both of them, maybe since they are tall, they are slower moving to the net so I think 1 or 2 drops and then a hard smash worked really well for us.”

“The title is definitely extra motivation for us,” said Satwik.  “We got in one good period of training before coming to these 3 tournaments in a row – Indonesia, Japan, and now Thailand – so that one month really helped a lot for us, physical-wise and technical-wise.  So we have two more weeks and relax and then back to the job.

China starts 0 for 2

In the opening match of the afternoon, China had its first of four chances at a Thailand Open title.  Four years ago, Li Yinhui had her first bit of luck in Thailand when the Thailand Open became her first major title.  Then aged only 18, and playing with Huang Dongping, Li won the Grand Prix Gold event by winning the final against half of each of this year’s bronze medallists, Chang Ye Na and Lee So Hee.

A lot has happened since then.  Li Yinhui has been ranked as high as #3 in the world with Zhang Nan in mixed doubles and at #7, she and Du Yue (pictured above) – half of the last Chinese pair to win a Thailand Open title – are now close to their career high ranking in women’s doubles.  Titles have not come as easily to them, though, despite some promising appearances in finals, most recently at the Malaysia Open this past spring.

Du won her first Super 500 title in mixed doubles at the Korea Open last autumn but even in mixed, Li hasn’t won since the four she took while still a teenager.  The Chinese pair certainly looked both hungry and capable but once again, it was not to be and they had to settle for silver.  After a close opener, the two pairs traded one-sided games and it was that 21-19 result to start things off that was decisive.

Shiho Tanaka / Koharu Yonemoto (pictured left) aren’t exactly prolific title-winners either.  2017 marked their first title, and they reached one additional final, then won the Finals title in Dubai.  And that was their last title at any level, until today.

“We lost last week in the first round so we really tried our best to get the championship this week,” said Shiho Tanaka after the match.

“This Chinese pair is very fast,” said Koharu Yonemoto, “so we had to concentrate in order to avoid making errors and we tried to make the rallies longer.  The second game was not a good performance for us but we concentrated better in the final game.”

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Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net