Thursday, May 24, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
Thailand’s women stood up to the pressure of the quarter-final test today at the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2018, recovering from 1-2 down to beat Indonesia and assure themselves of a medal.
The Uber Cup clash between the hosts and Indonesia was the most eventful of the quarter-finals in the day’s second session that also saw Thomas Cup top seeds China and Uber Cup top seeds Japan march into the semi-finals. Japan face Korea in the semi-finals, while Thailand take on China.
Thailand was reckoned to have the greater depth in singles while Indonesia’s strength lay in doubles. The first two matches went according to expectations, with Ratchanok Intanon putting hosts ahead with a 21-9 21-7 hammering of Fitriani Fitriani, and Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu equalising for Indonesia beating Jongkolphan Kititharakul/Rawinda Prajongjai 21-11 21-16.
Then the tie swung Indonesia’s way. Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, who has carried Indonesia’s campaign with three wins in three, surprised Nitchaon Jindapol in the second singles with a tactically astute game, 21-10 22-20, to send flutters in the Thai camp.
Jindapol, who had beaten Tunjung in January, admitted she hadn’t expected the turnaround from the Indonesian: “I was under pressure, but it wasn’t that the team put pressure on me; it was the pressure put on me by my opponent. I just wasn’t able to execute my tactics. The last time I played her I won quite easily but today she changed her game and I couldn’t play at my normal level.”
Thailand were in trouble, for not only had their doubles pair of Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Puttita Supajirakul not played as a pair this year, they were taking on Della Destiara Haris and Rizki Amelia Pradipta, who were semi-finalists at the Badminton Asia Championships in April.
The Thais dominated the early phase but it then turned into a sticky, nervy affair as the Indonesians caught up. Supajirakul’s shakiness showed, but Taerattanachai covered up well for her partner and kept them in the hunt with some instinctive forays to the net. It was the lanky Supajirakul, however, who spotted a vacant corner on the Thais’ second game point, and they were on their way.
With the Thais getting increasingly confident and the crowd serenading them, the Indonesians fell apart. Their usually tight defence was in tatters and the second game was over in a flash – 22-20 21-12.
“We had a lead and we tried to relax, and our opponents caught up,” said Taerattanachai. “We put pressure on ourselves. We tried to return to our style. All four of us were trying to keep the shuttle down and we were trying to get to the net first. The team’s goal was the semi-finals, and we’re happy to have taken the team through.”
Ruselli Hartawan had inflicted on China’s Li Xuerui a rare Uber Cup loss in the last group match, but the Indonesian was like a hare caught in a vehicle’s headlights against Busanan Ongbamrungphan in the deciding fifth match. It was a virtual no-contest as the Thai picked her winners with ease; only late in the match did Hartawan put up a semblance of a fight. It was too little, too late, and Ongbamrunphan (featured image) soon had her team rushing on to court to celebrate their assured medal as she completed her 21-9 21-12 rout.
“It’s normal that there will be pressure in a deciding match,” said Ongbamrunphan. “But since it’s at home, there was a lot of support, my parents are here, so it drove me harder. To have the Thomas & Uber Cup Finals in Bangkok is a rare event and we wanted to be on the podium in front of our home crowd. I’m very proud that I got this point and got the team on the podium.”
In the other Uber Cup quarter-final of the session, top seeds Japan had it easy over Chinese Taipei, 3-1, despite losing their opening singles. Akane Yamaguchi’s 21-19 21-16 loss to Tai Tzu Ying did not faze Japan, who had the personnel to steady the ship.
Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota, Nozomi Okuhara and Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi completed straight-games victories to take them to the semi-finals.
Thomas Cup top seeds China were just as composed against a dangerous Chinese Taipei team, winning their quarter-final 3-0.
The only spot of bother for China was when Chou Tien Chen took a game off Chen Long in the opening singles, but normal service resumed with Chen coming back strongly in the third game to put China 1-0 ahead, 21-18 10-21 21-14.
“It just didn’t feel right late in the first game, I wasn’t playing as carefree compared to the beginning. I wanted to rally with him but I guess it was his forte so I lost many points in succession. It was all my own mistakes, not that my opponent played better than me. I think I was a bit passive and played too safe,” said Chen. “I lost nine points in a row in the second game. I had no idea what happened. At 2-11, I told myself just get a better feel of the game and get ready for the third game.”
Lee Yang and Lee Jhe-Huei mounted a spirited challenge to Liu Cheng/Zhang Nan but the World champions from China held their lead throughout the match and closed it out 21-18 21-18.
Wang Tzu Wei had his chances in the second game against Shi Yuqi but the Chinese recovered in time to get the better of his opponent, 21-18 21-19.