By THE NATION
The 19-year-old from Chonburi succumbed to nerves in the opener before showing tenacity and rock-solid defence to wear down his opponent in 65 minutes.
“Overall it was a good match for me, except for the first game where I started really slow,” said Kunlavut, who won a record three world junior men’s singles titles from 2017-19. “Then I tried to speed up and tightened my defence, cutting down easy errors,” the world No 29 added.
However fellow Thai Suppanyu Avihingsanon failed to emulate the teenager, going down 21-16 21-4 to world No 2 Chou Tien Chen of Taiwan.
Meanwhile Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie of Indonesia was dumped out after a marathon 75-minute battle saw India’s Prannoy HS triumph 18-21 21-16 23-21. However, Prannoy’s compatriot and 2017 Thailand Open winner Sai Praneeth B withdrew from the tournament after testing positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday night.
Wednesday’s biggest upset came in the women’s singles, where Thailand’s world No 129 Benyapa Aimsaard, aged 18, stunned world No 29 Evgeniya Kosetskaya of Russia 21-15 17-21 21-19 in the first round.
"I was leading in the last game, but she was pushing hard in an aggressive style and [suddenly] the scores were level,” said Benyapa. “I was a bit shaky, but I tried to control myself. I am so glad I could make it over the finishing line. This has really boosted my confidence, this is massive for me,” said the Thai dark horse.
Fresh from winning the Thailand Open I last week, Carolina Marin of Spain maintained her streak with a 21-9 21-18 win over Qi Xuefei of France.
The Spanish world No 6, who on Sunday upset world No 1 Tai Tzu Ying of Taiwan for her first victory since 2019, was briefly challenged by the China-born player before advancing after 42 minutes.
"I wanted to start with the same determination I had last week,” said the former world No 1, who already has four Super 1000 titles including the Thailand Open I under her belt.
"The first game was good. The second game I had a few unforced errors, but I didn't think negatively. I tried to keep going … and keep pushing her just to get the victory,” said Marin who has yet to drop a game in the past two weeks.
Elsewhere, South Korean teen sensation An Se Young, a semi-finalist last week, displayed her superior all-court game to eliminate local hope Phittayaporn Chaiwan 21-12 21-8.