TOYOTA THAILAND OPEN SF – 4 looking for consecutive titles
Home favourites Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai lead a parade of 4 champions from last week into the finals for further success, while Korean players pulled off 2 reversals from last week, failed at 1, and hope for another.
By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
Four winners of the Yonex Thailand Open from last weekend have booked their repeat spots in the finals of this weekend’s edition, sponsored by Toyota. For Thai fans, the highlight will again be seeing mixed doubles top seeds Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai compete for a second consecutive title but they will be the last of 4 to attempt that feat on Sunday afternoon.
The road was far from easy for the Thai pair. They struggled with the thunderous smashes from India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and the well-timed precision blocks from his partner Ashwini Ponnappa. The Indians erased a 12-17 deficit in the opening game before the Thais held on to snatch it 22-20 but then the Indian pair made a successful comeback in the second to even it up. A 7-point run in the last half of the decider sealed their position in their second final in as many weeks.
“I’m happy with the performance today,” said Satwiksairaj Rankireddy after the match, his second of the day. “The quality of the last two games was good. I think we have played one of the best matches of our careers against these top players. We couldn’t even practice before coming here. We just wanted to play. We gave it a good fight today, it was very close.”
The Thais go on to face 4th-seeded Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yoo Jung. The Koreans have not been in the final of a Super 500 or above tournament since the 2018 French Open. On that occasion, it was the Thai pair they beat to advance to play on Sunday. In fact, last weekend was the most recent of 5 semi-final meetings between these two pairs but Sunday will mark their first encounter in a final. Seo and Chae had a little trouble in their second game with Malaysians Hoo and Cheah but made it through in two.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s match, Sapsiree Taerattanachai said, “Oh we feel so very happy and exited for tomorrow. Our opponents today played very well. They tried to attack us and force a lot of movement on court so in the third we stepped things up. We face the Koreans in the final tomorrow so we’ll go over our plan tonight, but we can’t wait for tomorrow.”
The women’s doubles final is actually the only one that will not see a repeat winner from last week. That fate was sealed in the opening match on semi-finals day, when last Sunday’s winners, Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu, fell in two games to Korea’s Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan.
Greysia Polii said after her match, “I think we tried our best, and we went as far as we could go. They were ready, and they were better than us today. To be honest, we felt we were weaker in terms of mindset. Physically and mentally we were a bit down and tried, but we wanted to bring out the best.”
Lee/Shin were the second Korean pair to reverse their fortunes from last week. Kong Hee Yong and Kim So Yeong had bested in the quarter-finals the pair who had beaten them last Saturday and this weekend, they enjoyed a much more comfortable semi-final, beating Malaysia’s Lee/Meng in one of the quickest matches of the day. The two Korean pairs have already met in three finals but this Super 1000 is obviously the biggest one yet.
Women’s singles is the only discipline to feature the same finalists as last weekend. Top seed Tai Tzu Ying struggled in her first game against home favourite Ratchanok Intanon but she came roaring back in the second. Intanon managed to earn 4 match points but Tai Tzu Ying calmly transformed back into her unbeatable, world #1 self for the last few points and finished it off 23-21 to earn a second consecutive Sunday appointment with Olympic champion Carolina Marin.
“I had to play very patiently today because Intanon is not an easy opponent,” said Tai Tzu Ying after her win. “Ratchanok’s style of play is flexible, she can play a lot of different shots and she can also be unpredictable. In the opening game, I made a few mistakes and in the second and third I played long rallies and kept things patient. In the final moments of the match I just enjoyed playing badminton on court again.
“For tomorrow, my main issue is managing my unforced errors and from watching Marin’s matches, I can say she’s very fast and I’ll try to keep up.”
Korean teenager An Se Young was unable to mimic the success of her women’s doubles compatriots as she again fell in the semi-finals to Carolina Marin. She again battled well and played a solid match but she could not get the better of the European’s speed nor handle her smashes adequately.
After the match, An said, “I have more confidence than before, but I made many mistakes when I had chances. It’s a little disappointing that I didn’t do as well in the second game but I’m happy that I played with more confidence today. Marin is fast and her style is attacking. I tried to respond to her smashes and tried everything I wanted to. Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite so well so I’m a little disappointed.
“I think there are a lot of important lessons from this week and last week. I think these experiences help me a lot in having the opportunity to play with great players.”
Men’s doubles will again feature Chinese Taipei’s Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin against a Malaysian pair. Last week, Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik had lost in the first round to compatriots Goh/Tan but this week, they had beaten their veteran compatriots in the quarter-finals.
On Saturday, the last remaining Malaysians dealt Satwiksairaj Rankireddy his first defeat of the afternoon, beating him and Chirag Shetty in straight games. Meanwhile, Lee and Wang dropped their first game to World Champions Ahsan/Setiawan but despite losing their 17-11 lead in the second, they held on to force a decider, which they dominated.
Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus has had an incredible run to the final, his first since 2016. Although Vittinghus has never been ranked higher than #8 in the world, he has contested finals in some of the badminton world’s biggest tournaments, against its most famous stars. Interestingly, however, his international experience against his highest-ranked compatriots is quite limited.
Saturday marked his first interneational encounter with current world #3 Anders Antonsen and the veteran benefited from a rather listless opponent in the second game especially.
“That was frustrating,” said Antonsen after his loss. “Mentally, it was quite a weak performance. I was just finding myself angry and distracted. I just wasn’t in the zone mentally. A big disappointment.
“Hans played well. He played a smart game. He played his chances, gave his best and that worked out. He was more calm than I was.”
After booking his spot in the final, Vittinghus said, “I can hardly talk about my emotions. I’m feeling very emotional. It’s not the greatest performance Anders has ever put in; he broke down mentally after giving away the first game. I could not be any prouder of my performance.
“I was under pressure in the opening game with the tricky conditions. I think I got off to a good start and that shook Anders a bit. I have great respect for Anders, I think he’s the smartest player on the men’s singles circuit. I love the sound of the final, I’d like to taste it a bit more, but I can say that this feels pretty awesome. I have to change my flight. I have a flight booked home for tonight. I’m really looking forward to the final tomorrow.”
Vittinghus must face world #4 Viktor Axelsen on Sunday. Axelsen won not only last weekend but he is also the reigning All England champion. In fact, his semi-final win was a repeat of the All England final, with a very similar result, a straight-game win over Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei.
The final will be only the sixth international meeting between the two Danes and the first time they have met on a Sunday, or in a tournament of this stature. The last time Axelsen lost to his elder team-mate was over 7 years ago, at the London Grand Prix Gold.
WD: Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR)  vs. Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR) 
MD: Lee Yang / Wang Chi Lin (TPE)  vs. Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik (MAS) 
WS: Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)  vs. Carolina Marin (ESP) 
MS: Viktor Axelsen (DEN)  vs. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus (DEN)
XD: Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)  vs. Seo Seung Jae / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR)