By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
The Nation Weekend
Thailand, spearheaded by former world No 1 Ratchanok Intanon and the in-form mixed doubles pair of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, made the whole country proud on Thursday by knocking out defending champions South Korea in the quarter-finals 4-1.
They have already achieved their initial target of reaching the knockout stages so anything else will be a bonus.
They will head into Saturday’s tie as the underdogs against a star-studded Chinese team which includes 2016 Olympic men’s singles champion Chen Long, 2019 All England women’s singles victor Chen Yufei and 2017 women’s doubles winners Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan.
“The key that’s made us come this far is because we are very solid as a team,” said Thailand’s Indonesian coach Rexy Mainaky, himself a former Olympics doubles gold medallist. “The players never consider themselves superstars –they view every player as being the same. They can all wins and lose points.”
It is Thailand’s third appearance in the Sudirman Cup semi-finals, the first being in 2013 and the second two years ago.
Mainaky admitted that even he had been surprised at his side’s triumph over the reigning champions.
“We come here with high expectations and with the good spirits of the team. So we deserve to reach this stage. Of course I was surprised and so was the world,” said Mainaky who said the support of Thai badminton chief Khun Ying Patama Leeswadtrakul at courtside had been an extra boost for the players.
Patapol Ngernsrisuk, the coach of Ratchanok and in China to assist Mainaky, said they would discuss the best line-up to cause an upset.
“In reality, we are maybe the underdogs but we will give a hard fight. Our line-ups won’t make things easy for them,” Patapol said.
Mixed doubles specialist Sapsiree, who upset world No 1 Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong of China in April’s Singapore Open, hopes that she and Dechapol will be inspired from that win to cause another upset.
“We are all determined to fight hard. Sticking to the game plan is what we have to focus first,” Sapsiree said.
Thailand qualified for the knockout stages as group runners-up, with one win over Russia and one loss to Japan.
They started the quarter-finals in style when Dechapol and Sapsiree won the opening rubber against over Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yujung 21-18 21-18.
Then world No 18 Kantaphon Wancharoen extended the Thai lead to 2-0, powering past Heo Kwang Hee 21-17 21-17.
South Korea struck back in the men’s doubles when Min Hyuk Kang and Kim Won Ho bounced back from the opening-game defeat to beat Tinn Isriyanet and Kittinupong Kerden 19-21 21-17 21-14.
Former world champion Ratchanok Intanon clinched victory by defeating New Zealand Open champion Se Young An 21-15 21-17.