Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon made a successful cameo appearance at the Southeast Asian Games yesterday, the world number five leading from the front in her country’s crushing 3-0 victory over Malaysia in the women’s team badminton final.
The power-packed Thai team won all their matches in straight sets, reclaiming a title they last won in 2011 with two rubbers to spare in a win that was never in doubt once Ratchanok scored the first of the three points needed for victory.
The 2013 world champion is in a rich vein of form coming into an important part of the badminton season and on Friday’s evidence the 20-year-old will be a major contender to secure a second global title in Jakarta later this year.
A few hours later, Indonesia’s men rallied to deny Thailand a team double when Ihsan Maulana Mustofa fought back from a game down to edge out Suppanyu Avihingsanon 20-22 21-16 21-9 to secure a 3-2 victory for the region’s dominant badminton force.
Ratchanok arrived in Singapore fresh from a Super Series victory in the Indonesian capital and picked up where she left off with a comfortable 21-13 21-14 victory over Malaysia’s Lim Yin Fun in front of a packed Indoor Stadium crowd.
The Thai started slowly but was in exhibition mode by the second game, showing off a full array of shots from all angles, dominating her 20-year-old opponent with deft backhands at the net and some devastating smashes as she pulled clear.
Ratchanok had shown very little emotion throughout the contest but let out a yelp of delight when she finally got over the line after frittering away three match points as Lim offered some late resistance.
“I didn’t start to well as I felt my opponent was free of pressure and able to make her shots,” Ratchanok, who is not playing in the singles event, told Reuters.
“I improved once I settled down and it was nice to get the first win for the team in front of a lot of Thai supporters.”
Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai then teamed up to put Thailand on the brink of the gold with a stirring 22-20 21-18 victory over Amelia Alicia Anscelly and Soong Fie Cho in a hard-fought doubles encounter.
The Thai pair are ranked 13th in the world, 13 places above their opponents, and needed to dig deep into their reserves to rally from behind in the first game and overcome a worrying deficit in the second.
Trailing 6-1, Puttita needed some lengthy on-court treatment when she landed heavily on her right knee after slipping as she attempted to retrieve a drop shot. Slowly but surely the Thais chipped away at the deficit, eventually silencing a noisy Malaysian contingent in the stands when they earned four match points, securing victory on the third of them when Anscelly netted tamely after a long rally.
The stage was then set for Busanan Ongbumrungpan to finish off the job and the 19-year-old world number 18 duly obliged with a straightforward 21-8 21-15 victory over Ho Yen Mei in the second singles.
The Malaysian tried hard but was simply outclassed by a woman ranked more than 100 places above her, leaving Busanan to be mobbed by her delighted teammates when she forced Ho into a backhand error on match point.
The Thai men won the first two singles matches through Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk and Boonsak Ponsana, only to be pegged back each time in the doubles, before Mustofa roared to victory in the decider to set off wild celebrations on the centre of the court.
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