The monsoon rains that come to Thailand every summer were in full force at the time the Thailand Open began on Sunday, causing many of the local fans to arrive late for the start of the day’s matches. Most were disappointed and possibly startled by what they saw when they did arrive, as Vietnam’s Tien Minh Nguyen was in the process of sending local favourite Boonsak Ponsana down to defeat to become the first of four first-time Grand Prix Gold gold medallists. Aside from the early heartbreak for many of the fans, it was a good day of quality badminton inside Bangkok’s Nimimbutr Stadium. The women’s doubles and women’s singles were all-Chinese affairs, two Malaysian men’s doubles teams squared off and the two top Thai mixed doubles pairs faced each other to decide the winners of this year’s Open. Story: Gerald Jew, Badzine special correspondent, live in Bangkok.
Photos: Gerald Jew (live) and BadmintonPhoto.com (archives)
Ho Chi Minh City’s Nguyen Tien Minh (pictured) ruined the day for not only the many fans who left immediately after the match that began the day’s play, but for Boonsak Ponsana, who was looking to regain the title he last won in 2004. Nguyen jumped out to an early lead in the first game before Ponsana came back to take an 11-9 advantage at the mid-game break. Nguyen evened the game at 14-all, took the lead at 16-15 and never looked back, winning the game 21-16. Ponsana took the early lead in the second game, but Nguyen evened the score at 4-4 and kept the advantage the rest of the way before pulling away to an easy 21-13 win that would earn him his first tournament victory outside of Vietnam since the 2004 Malaysian Satellite.
“I worked very hard. I was very relaxed the whole tournament and this was the best tournament of my life and the best match of my life,” the soft-spoken Nguyen said after the match. What comes next for Nguyen? “I’m going home to rest for one day and then begin to prepare for the World Championships. Badminton is 80% of my life, eating is 10% and sleeping is 10%,” he said.
Two Chinese qualifiers faced each other in the women’s singles final, both Liu Jian and Wang Rong (pictured) were playing their eighth match in six days. Liu, who eliminated #3 seed Salakjit Ponsana in Saturday’s semi-finals, took the title from Wang, who captivated the Bangkok fans with her endearing smile and second round upset over top seeded Hong Kong’s mighty Wang Chen. Liu played the entire tournament without losing a game victory, winning all sixteen of her games to gain her first international tournament title win.
The men’s doubles final was contested by two Malaysian pairs and the world’s #13 ranked team of Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah were upset by the unseeded younger and less experienced team of 21-year-old Chan Peng Soon and 20-year-old Lim Khim Wah in three games. After trailing for most of the entire first game, Chan and Lim came back to tie the game at 17-all, and fought off two game points at 18-20 before ceding the game 20-22 to the distinguished veterans opposite. Chan and Lim (pictured below) then recovered to win the second game 21-14 and the youngsters went on to capture the title with a 21-11 win in the third, a game in which they never fell behind. As is to be expected, Penang’s Chan and Lim, who hails from Kuala Lumpur, were jubilant after the victory, their first title of any kind since joining forces.
“We expected to win and we felt no pressure against the top seeds,” Chan commented after their morale-boosting win, adding, “We feel confident that we can go a long way together.”
The women’s doubles featured two veteran pairs who left the Chinese National Team after last year’s Olympics: fourth-seeded Gao Ling and Wei Yili and the former World and Olympic as well as defending Thai Open champions Yang Wei and Zhang Jiewen. After blowing an 18-12 lead and a game point at 20-19, Gao and Wei held on to take the first game, 24-22. The second game was another tightly fought battle that was tied at 17-17 before Yang and Zhang took the last four points to even the match. The battle continued into the third game but after breaking a 7-all tie, Yang and Zhang then took control of the game and came away with the title, winning the third game by a 21-15 margin.
The mixed double’s finals and last match of the evening guaranteed the local fans the Thai victory they came for. The veteran and #1 seeded team of Sudket Prapakmol and Saralee Thoungthongkam faced off against the #2 seeds Songphon Anugritayawon and Kunchala Voravichitchaikul (pictured top), who earlier this year briefly took on the mantle of the world’s highest ranked Thai mixed team. After a 11-21 loss in the first game, Anugritayawon and Voravichitchaikul took control early in the second game to win 21-17. After losing the first point in game three, Songphon and Kunchala took control of the game and match by jumping out to an 8-1 lead, a lead they never relinquished in coming away with a 21-12 victory and their first ever Grand Prix title, a title that was made even sweeter playing in front of their hometown fans.
This year’s Thailand Open lacked the star power of previous years, but provided many exciting moments and also showcased many of the game’s future stars. Nguyen Tien Minh played superbly and led the first of three second seeds to achieve victory. The win by the young and talented Malaysian men’s doubles pair bodes well for their future, and Liu Jian’s smooth path from the qualifying rounds to the winner’s podium was a remarkable achievement. As always, the Thailand Open was a very well-run affair, the Badminton Association of Thailand and the Badminton World Federation are to be applauded for putting on yet another fine show.