WORLDS SF – Thai pair in the final for the first time ever

Semi-finals day at the World Championships ended with two upsets of 2018 finalists from China, and Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai become the first Thais ever to reach a doubles […]

Semi-finals day at the ended with two upsets of 2018 finalists from China, and Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai become the first Thais ever to reach a doubles final at the Worlds.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

The biggest upset of the day on Saturday at the World Championships may have come in the last match but it was the one before it that meant history for Thai badminton.  Mixed doubles was responsible for the first two World Championship medals won by Thailand historically, as Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthonkam had got as far as the semi-finals in both 2005 and 2006; however, Ratchanok Intanon placed the focus squarely on singles when she won the title in 2013 and the Southeast Asian nation had not medalled since in any discipline…until this year.

Standing in the way of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured) were their arch-rivals, of sorts.  Wang Yilü and Huang Dongping (pictured below) had beaten the Thais 3 times already this year, most recently crushing the home crowd by keeping them out of their home Super 500 event at the Thailand Open earlier this month.

Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai had started the rivalry with the clear advantage over the Chinese pair, beating them twice in the spring of 2017, both times in straight games.  The Thais skipped the Worlds that summer to compete in the SEA Games, but after they won the gold medal, Taerattanachai was injured and meanwhile, Wang/Huang followed up their quarter-final finish in Glasgow by taking their first Superseries title in Japan.  Suddenly the Chinese pair were a major force in mixed doubles and by the time Taerattanachai was back from her injury lay-off, Wang/Huang were in the top 5 in the world.

In 2019, both Huang and Wang had stopped playing level doubles completely and following up their title at the lucrative World Tour Finals in December, they reached 7 finals this year, winning five of them, before arriving at the Worlds as the number 2 seeds.

None of this seemed to impress the Thais on Saturday, however, as Sapsiree more than matched Huang at the net, while frequently taking care of business from the backcourt as well.  Wang Yilü was his usual ominous self from the backcourt but the Thais kept the shuttle low when they could and did an amazing job of varying their lifts to keep Wang just slightly off-balance so they could respond to the Chinese attacking situations.

In the end, the Thais won both games 21-16 and they will take on defending champions Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (pictured right) in Sunday’s final.  The world #1s won handily over Japan’s Watanabe/Higashino and they have a similar history against Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai.

Thailand’s other two semi-finalists failed to advance.  Kantaphon Wangcharoen was completely shut down by Denmark’s Anders Antonsen, who will go up against fellow easy winner, defending champion Kento Momota.

Familiar final match-ups

2013 women’s singles champion Ratchanok Intanon won her first game over her 2017 counterpart Nozomi Okuhara (pictured left), but she couldn’t quite catch up and finish the match in straight games and it was Okuhara who prevailed in the decider.  Women’s singles will thus be a repeat of the 2017 final, as Pusarla Venkata Sindhu followed up her upset of Asian Games gold medallist Tai Tzu Ying by scoring her second victory this year over All England winner Chen Yufei.

Women’s doubles, meanwhile, will be a repeat of last year’s final. Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara (pictured bottom) and Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota both came through in straight games, against Polii/Rahayu and Du/Li respectively.  This is the only discipline which has been on seed for almost the entire week, with the exception of Du/Li reaching the semis as 7th seeds.

Hoki/Kobayashi keep on

Just a year ago, it seemed that Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (pictured right) only played well in Korea.  They reached the final in Seoul a year after making the Korea Open their first and only Superseries semi-final, and then they did very little for the rest of the year.

This year, they have made their move, though.  Reaching the semi-finals of first the Malaysia Open Super 750 and then the Indonesia Open Super 1000, they reached their career high world ranking of #12 and this week’s result will put them into the top 10 for the first time.

The pairs that beat the Japanese upstarts in those two semi-finals just happened to be Li/Liu of China and Ahsan/Setiawan of Indonesia.  The defending champions from China just did not have the edge they have had in the past over Hoki and Kobayashi.

The tall men were consistently under pressure and lacked their usual, solid defense.  After taking the first game by a narrow margin, the 12th seeds from Japan opened up a big lead in the second game which the Chinese pair just could do nothing to close.  Hoki and Kobayashi thus proceed to the finals, where they will attempt to make the World Championships their first international title since the Spanish International Challenge 3 years ago.

To win, though, the Japanese duo will have to overcome two-time winners Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured left).  The Indonesian veterans beat their compatriots and Asian Games silver medallists Alfian/Ardianto in three games, dominating the decider 21-10.

In fact, that Indonesia Open last month was the only previous meeting between the two men’s doubles finalists.  That one finished in three fairly close games but the question on Sunday in Basel will be whether the experience will win out or whether the euphoric momentum of a pair on a roll can clinch the upset.

Finals line-up
WD:  Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara (JPN) [1] vs. Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (JPN) [2]
WS:  Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [3] vs. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [5]
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] vs. Anders Antonsen (DEN) [5]
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] vs. Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA) [4]
MD:  Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan [4] vs. Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (JPN) [12]

Click here for complete semi-final results

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