Thai badminton star battles back to victory, heads to final


Son of the soil Kunlavut Vitidsarn survived another hard-fought thriller to reach the finals as Thailand have five players vying for three titles in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Thailand Open at Hua Mark Indoor Stadium.

Thailand’s top men’s singles player, Kunlavut found himself in trouble again for the fourth day as he was taken to three games. Somehow, he managed to survive another threat with his never-give-up attitude as he prevailed over the Indian rival 13-21, 21-17, 21-13 in the exhilarating semi-final contest in front of more than 2,000 fans.

“He came up with a good game plan and didn’t allow me to find my momentum at the beginning. But after I tried to find my concentration, I fought my way back. I really have to thank the fans for motivating me to hang in there,” said Kunlavut, whose final opponent is World No 17 Lee Cheuk Yiu from Hong Kong.

Lee won 21-14 and 21-16 over Toma Junior Popov of France to make the finals.

The world No 5 will try to become the first Thai to win the men’s singles gold since Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk in 2016.

Thai badminton star battles back to victory, heads to final

Kunlavut Vitidsarn sits in his signature post-victory meditative pose.

Kunlavut won both matches in his two previous encounters with the Hong Konger.

“Instead of trying to make a record, I will try to make it more like fun to be able to be at this stage of a home tournament with a huge crowd rooting for me. About the final, even though I beat him before, it depends on who controls the situation better,” Kunlavut said.

Apart from the men’s singles, Thailand also have shots in the mixed doubles and women’s doubles.

Thai badminton star battles back to victory, heads to final Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Dechapol Puavaranukroh pose for the camera after their victory.

Mixed doubles top seed Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai lived up to their expectations after they beat Mathias Christiansen and Alexandra Boje of Denmark 21-10 and 21-11 to reach their back-to-back finals after winning the Malaysia Masters last week.

"We took full control and executed our strategies effectively. Everything seemed to go our way," said Dechapol, who won back-to-back Thailand Open I and II alongside Sapsiree during the pandemic in 2020.

Sunday's final will present a different scenario as fans will flock to the stadium, unlike the closed-door competitions of 2020.

Standing in their way are the fifth-seeded duo of Kim Won Ho and Jeong Na Eun, who defeated Ye Hong Wei and Lee Chia Hsin in a tightly contested match, with a score of 15-21, 21-15, 21-15 in an all-South Korea affair. The South Korean team had triumphed over the Thai pair in the India Open earlier this year.

"We are truly grateful to have such a large crowd coming out to support us today. Their presence inspires us to push ourselves even further. However, we are aware of the South Korean pair's exceptional skills. We will give our best and aim to minimise unforced errors," said Sapsiree, expressing her determination ahead of the upcoming match.

Thai badminton star battles back to victory, heads to final

Nuntakarn and Benyapa Aimsaard pump their fists after their victory.

In women’s doubles, sixth-seeded Benyapa and Nuntakarn Aimsaard continued their impressive home form by upsetting third-seeded Baek Ha Na and Lee So Hee of South Korea 21-11 and 21-7. They made their second final this year after winning the Thailand Masters in January.

“At first we were a bit under pressure as we lost to them before. But we studied their style and tried to figure out a way to beat them on the court,” said Nuntakarn, the elder sister.

The two will play in the final against top seeded pair and world No 7 Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong of South Korea, who dashed the hopes of Jongkolphan Kittitharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai 21-12 and 21-12.

In women’s singles, top seed and world No 2 An Se Young of South Korea reached her sixth final of the year after she beat former two-time former champion Carolina Marin of Spain 21-16 and 21-12.

The in-form Yong, who has bagged three titles this year, will face third-seeded and world No 5 He Bing Jiao of China in the final. The Chinese player trounced 2019 European Games gold medallist Mia Blichfeldt of Denmark 21-13 and 21-18. The South Korean ace will enter the final with a superior 4-2 lifetime record, including two wins this year in the India Open and German Open.