By Don Hearn. Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)
Pornpawee Chochuwong (pictured) is making the most of her opportunity. The 23-year-old Thai is playing in the World Tour Finals for the first time but unlike most of the other players in the draw, the Superseries Finals was never an option, as she was only 19 and had only just started playing Superseries events when that era ended. In fact, Chochuwong won her first major tournament less than a year ago, when she beat none other than Carolina Marin to take the Spain Masters Super 300 title.
On Thursday in Bangkok, Chochuwong had a daunting task. Having already gotten the better of compatriot Ratchanok Intanon, in order to advance, she needed to come up with another win against either 2018 World Tour Finals champion P. V. Sindhu or two-time Superseries Finals winner Tai Tzu Ying.
Chochuwong played an inspired match, putting pressure on Tai, a player she had never beaten, and finding the lines with crisp smashes when it counted. When the dust cleared, the Thai had bested Tai in straight games, barely allowing the world #1 into double figures in the second.
“Today I wanted to control myself more than yesterday and follow my speed with every single shot,” Pornpawee Chochuwong after her victory. “When I had a chance, I took it. I didn’t think too far ahead about who I was playing. Because Tai is a top player, everyone might think she’s sure to beat me but today I fought and passed over that feeling that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Today I tried everything to win. I feel good about my performance, I’ve improved a lot from yesterday and this win today has made me more confident.”
With the win, Chochuwong has ensured not only that she will advance to the semi-finals, but that she will finish atop the group. Even if she were to lose her last group match, she would still have the same record of 2 wins and one loss as the winner of the other Group B match on Friday, both of whom she beat.
The other women’s singles group, as well as both groups in men’s singles, feature the more familiar round-robin pattern where two undefeated shuttlers will meet in the final match to decide on the pecking order atop the group. The only other match close to an upset was Chinese Taipei’s Wang Tzu Wei (pictured) beating Srikanth Kidambi. Wang is actually ranked slightly higher than the Indian but Srikanth is a former world #1 and Wang had been unable to take a game in their three previous encounters.
Thais struggle to escape Group of Death
Perhaps the most unlikely result of Tuesday’s draw was Group A in mixed doubles. In this topsy-turvy badminton year, the top seeds, based on World Tour rankings, was actually the lowest-ranked duo of all those drawn in the group and the other three pairs happened to be the three finalists from the last two Super 1000 events.
After getting the better of Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yoo Jung for two weeks running, Thailand’s world #3 duo of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured) were stunned by the Koreans on Thursday. Not only had they enjoyed a 5-match winning streak against their opponents, but they had a commanding 11-3 lead in the second game that seemed a clear sign that the Thais had turned the tide, even as Seo Seung Jae was looking visibly tired in his 18th match in just over 2 weeks.
Chae Yoo Jung (pictured) was in fine form, with much more effective defensive play and excellent blocks at the net that kept the lifts coming for Seo Seung Jae’s attacks. Seo, meanwhile, seemed to be choosing placement and variety over his usual power game and the Thais could not capitalize on their counter-attacks the way they had the previous two weekends.
“We have played the Koreans twice before, so this time we came up with a new game plan and we couldn’t change things today to go our way, so we need to watch and review this match today to see what went wrong and come back,” Dechapol Puavaranukroh said after the match.
The Koreans are undefeated in their group and have now actually clinched a spot in the semi-finals. Even if they lose to fellow January runners-up Jordan/Oktavianti on Friday, they would still finish ahead of the Thais in a three-way tie atop the group. In fact, the only way for Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai to advance will be for them to beat the English pair on Friday and benefit from a loss by the Indonesians.
Earlier in the day, Seo Seung Jae had teamed up with Choi Sol Gyu to rescue their flagging fortunes in men’s doubles. The Koreans bounced back from their loss to Chia/Soh to score a third straight victory over World Champions Ahsan/Setiawan.
“Compared to the match yesterday, we were able to play the game we prepared, and be able to get the timing right,” said Choi Sol Gyu after the match. “We played to the backline a lot since our opponents were slower and we used our speed and power advantage.”
With everyone in men’s doubles Group B now standing at one win and one loss, the two spots in the semi-finals are up for grabs and will go to the winners of the two Friday matches. The Malaysians are facing the World Champions, against whom they have been successful only once in 6 attempts.
The Koreans take on Vladimir Ivanov and Ivan Sozonov (pictured) for one of the spots. The Russians shut down Toyota Thailand Open runners-up Chia/Soh in straight games. Choi Sol Gyu has never played against the 2016 All England champions and as for Seo, his only encounter with the tall European pair was at the 2017 Sudirman Cup, a few weeks after he made the permanent switch from singles to doubles.