AXIATA CUP SF – Malaysians to host Thais in Axiata final

Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk followed and his Malaysian counterparts to beat the singles odds and help Thailand into a showdown with hosts Malaysia for the Axiata Cup title. By Don Hearn, […]

Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk followed and his Malaysian counterparts to beat the singles odds and help Thailand into a showdown with hosts Malaysia for the title.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Courtesy of the Axiata Cup (live)

Defending champions Indonesia looked very strong coming into the semi-finals of the 2013 Axiata Cup in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.  With two in-form doubles pairs ready to bring up the rear, all they needed was a decent performance from one singles player and they would be back in the final.

However, one of those singles battles would involve Thai teen ace Ratchanok Intanon and in the other, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (pictured) was fresh from an All England semi-final appearance that he earned at the expense of none other than Tommy Sugiarto, his opponent of Saturday afternoon.

Lindaweni Fanetri got the nod to take on Ratchanok Intanon (pictured) to begin the tie.  Fanetri has recently moved up to a career-high world ranking of #15 on the strength of 3 Grand Prix finals appearances in the past 8 months but the young Thai’s court coverage and deception was just too much and Fanetri went down in two straight games.

“I’m delighted to have earned the first point for my team but it wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed,” said Ratchanok after her win.  “I had to work hard for the win and it put us a step closer to the final.”

Tanongsak was next up and he attacked Tommy Sugiarto relentlessly – the Indonesian now playing without the home-court advantage he enjoyed during the preliminary round when paying back his Thai opponent for the All England defeat – to take his own victory in two games.

“The atmosphere and stadium is just like the one in Birmingham [the All-England venue] and Tanongsak enjoyed himself,” said Thailand manager Udom Luangphetcharaporn.

“It suited an attacking player and Tanongsak used that to his advantage to stun Tommy.  To be honest, I didn’t think he would do it so easily.  After he won, in straight games, I knew we had a great chance.”

Doubles aces behind the 8-ball

It was then that the unusual format of the Axiata Cup kicked in.  A team competition with no women’s doubles, the looming possibility of a 2-all match score was possible, especially given that Indonesia’s pairs, two-time All England champions Tontowi Ahmad / Lilyana Natsir and Malaysia Open champions Mohammed Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan, were so heavily favoured.

However, the success of Thailand’s singles players meant that Indonesia’s pairs could not afford to even drop a single game if they wanted the statisticians to have to start counting points to declare a victor.  And Thai veterans Sudket Prapakamol / Saralee Thoungthongkam (pictured) were not about to make it easy.

Thailand’s mixed doubles aces came out firing, with Sudket leaping around the court and keeping the Indonesians under pressure and always guessing.  The dust cleared early and the Thais allowed the Indonesians a huge comeback from 8 points down in the first game before buckling down and sealing it 21-17 to clinch the finals berth.  The Indonesians could still have salvaged some pride by winning the match despite having failed to save the tie but they could do no better than 18 points in the second and Thailand came away with the 3-0 victory.

“This is certainly a disappointing result. I didn’t expect us to lose all three,” said Indonesia manager Herry I. P.  “Tommy was a big disappointment but the Thai shuttler played very well.

“Our mixed pair were under pressure not to drop a game and this affected their performance.  The Thais were very relaxed and enjoyed themselves out there without any pressure.  As for tomorrow, we shall go all out to finish third.”

Sonia steals another from Tai

On one hand, Malaysia came in as heavy favourites against the Asia All Stars.  However, their 3-1 victory in the preliminary round relied on what seemed like a fluke win by world #41 Sonia Cheah (pictured) over the mighty Tai Tzu Ying.

Asia was counting, this time, on Tai to play true to the form that saw her win two Superseries titles in four months and on Lee Hyun Il of Korea to continue his impressive run of seven victories, including one over Liew Daren.

Things went awry early for the northerners, however.  Sonia not only repeated her success against a nervous-looking Tai, but she won this time in two straight games.

“Credit will definitely go to my coach Wong Tat Meng and my team members who have been very supportive,” said Sonia after her win.  “There was no specific game plan, and I wouldn’t compare my win today with my match against Tzu Ying two weeks ago.  That was the past and today was a fresh game [for the two of us].”

It was hard not to think about the past as the first game of the rematch between Liew Daren (pictured) and Lee Hyun Il again went into extra points.  Whereas Liew had taken the opener 27-25 two weeks ago, this time it was Lee Hyun Il’s turn to go up a game when he scraped by 24-22.

From then on, though, it was all Liew Daren as he pounded down the crosscourt smashes and Lee’s control on defense and at the net just seemed to elude him.  The Malaysian took the remaining two by identical 21-12 scores to put Malaysia up by two matches.

“I never really expected Sonia to win in straight games so that reduced the pressure a little for me to perform better,” said Daren afterward.

“I was unfortunate to lose the first game as I was leading 19-16, but I recovered in the second and third so it was a good win.”

In contrast to Indonesia’s situation in the later semi-final, the Asia All Stars were then left with a very dire situation.  Although Lee Hyun had won one game for them, the odds in both doubles matches were heavily in the host team’s favour, where they had two top 5 pairs to rely on.

In the first game of mixed doubles, Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying made it look like a done deal, as they moved Ashwini Ponnappa and Tarun Kona (pictured) around the court at will to take it 21-8.

However, the Indians regrouped and managed to take the second 21-18 with Ponnappa doing a lot of hard attacking from the back while Tarun continually charged forward to finish rallies at the net.  This tactic continued to work in the third game but Goh Liu Ying insisted she would not be outdone and took control of the net, throwing in some devastating backhand put-aways, and the Malaysians took the decider 21-17.

“Really good team spirit today, but in the first match Sonia played really well.  Tai Tzu Ying wanted revenge after her defeat to Sonia two weeks ago, but Sonia was too good,” said Asia All Stars manager Greg Kim.

“The rest of the players were also complaining about how different the wind was today, but I think the Malaysian players would have faced it as well, but they played really well and I think they truly deserve to be in the final.”

The Malaysians will be fancying their chances in the final against Thailand, who will again field a scratch pairing in men’s doubles against an experienced partnership.  Men’s singles will again be a key, particularly as the women’s singles keeps depending on Sonia Cheah to play so far above her ranking.

“There is still a gap between me and Thailand’s Ratchanok or the Indonesians,” admitted Cheah, looking ahead to Sunday’s final.  “I have played Ratchanok some years back when I was still a junior, and I would like to see how big or small is the gap now.”

Axiata Cup Semi-final Results

Malaysia 3, Asia All Stars 0
WS: Sonia Cheah (MAS) bt Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)  21-18, 21-16
MS: Daren Liew (MAS) bt Lee Hyun Il (KOR)  22-24, 21-12, 21-12
XD: Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS) bt Ashwini Ponnappa Tarun Kona (IND) 21-8, 18-21, 21-17
MD: Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong (MAS) vs. Bao Chunlai / Zheng Bo (CHN) [not played]

Thailand 3, Indonesia 0
WS: Ratchanok Intanon (THA) bt Lindaweni Fanetri (INA)  21-18, 21-16
MS: Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (THA) bt Tommy Sugiarto (INA)  21-16, 21-15
XD: Sudket Prapakamol / Saralee Thoungthongkam (THA) bt Tontowi Ahmad / Lilyana Natsir (INA)  21-17, 21-18
MD: Boonsak Ponsana / Songphon Anugritayawon (THA) vs. Hendra Setiawan Mohammed Ahsan (INA) [not played]

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 @