TAI Tzu Ying & Ratchanok Intanon: MayTAI
Nothing stirs my badminton soul like the thought of a showdown between TAI Tzu Ying and Ratchanok Intanon. When two of the most technically brilliant players in the modern era meet, we know to expect gold-standard excellence. It’s the El Classico of the badminton world.
On court they inspire each other to reach new levels of genius. I often feel that TAI Tzu Ying can step into a different dimension away from her opponent, but against Ratchanok it is as though they hold hands and journey together. That is not to underplay their intense desire to defeat the other. During a match their creative vision, tempo and accuracy is dazzling.
At the time of writing (April 2023) there have been thirty-five fixtures between them with the current head-to-head standing at 20-15 in Tzu Ying’s favour. The first was as far back as 2010 at the Indonesia Grand Prix Gold quarter final; it was over in 32 minutes; a straight sets win for May.
Over the last 13 years there has been over 29 hours of play between them so it is tough to pick a favourite match, but I often rewatch the All-England final from 2017. There are not enough superlatives to do it justice. To the accompaniment of spectators’ delighted gasps and spontaneous applause there were so many beautiful shots played with verve and daring. It ended with a victory for the kid from Kaohsiung: TAI Tzu Ying’s first All England title.
Fast forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, over a decade has passed since that quarterfinal in Indonesia, and the stage was set for another highly anticipated showdown between two badminton superstars. They took to the court with a spot in the semifinals at stake.
What ensued was a pulsating match of skill, strength and grit as the two athletes battled over three exhausting sets. May unleashed some breathtaking shots and secured an early advantage winning the first set 21-14. Tzu Ying – facing intense pressure – had to dig deep. She mounted a fierce comeback, and the tie became a true test of finesse, athleticism and mental toughness. In the end it was TTY who clinched the match and a place in the semifinals winning 14-21, 21-18, 21-18. It was world class; a true test of willpower with both players leaving everything on the court. Owing to May’s distraught reaction at the end I find it too heartrending to rewatch. I wish it had been the final.
TAI Tzu Ying has observed that playing against May can be like looking in a mirror. They have trained together when young, and now have a warm relationship despite their rivalry. Their mutual respect is evident in their comments on each other’s social media and reportedly TTY included references to May’s play in her doctoral thesis.
Tzu Ying has mentioned that she plans to retire sometime in 2024 and I cannot help but wonder if Ratchanok and the rest of that golden generation of women’s singles players will be considering hanging up their rackets soon. The MayTAI is a highly anticipated event in the badminton calendar. The matches have become the stuff of legend. It is a testament to their talent and dedication that they continue to captivate fans year after year, cementing their status as some of the greatest players of all time.
This is an article from my archives about TAI Tzu Ying https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/02/02/tai-tzu-ying-genius/
Thanks to KH (@WKueihua) on Twitter for sharing this interesting news article with me about the friendship between the two players https://www.nownews.com/news/5639580
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