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Badminton: Ratchanok stuns Li to win Thailand’s first gold at World Champs

Ratchanok celebrates after securing a famous win over World No. 1 Li Xuerui.

Ratchanok celebrates after securing a famous win over World No. 1 Li Xuerui.

August 11, 2013: Ratchanok Intanon, 18, beat World No. 1 Li Xuerui 2-1 (22-20, 18-21, 21-14) to win the women’s singles final at the BWF World Championships in Guangzhou and earn Thailand’s first-ever gold in the badminton showpiece.

 

The ‘smiling assassin’ was reduced to tears, falling to her hands and knees after clinching her first match point and ending China’s run of eight gold medals in women’s singles, although her achievement was well appreciated by a gracious crowd at the Tianhe Sport Center.

 

An emotional Ratchanon after her victory.

An emotional Ratchanon after her victory.

After one of the greatest victories by a Thai sportswoman, Ratchanok said her achievement was a timely present to the Queen Sirikit of Thailand on her birthday on August 12, which is also Mother’s Day in Thailand.

 

“Monday is Mother’s Day in Thailand also the Queen’s birthday, so the Queen will meet me tomorrow. I will bring this great victory to the Queen. I will also bring it to my Mother and my Godmother,” Ratchanon said.

 

“I have been receiving phone calls from Thailand and they tell me the whole nation is celebrating,” added the World No. 3, who is coached by Xie Zhihua, a former China men’s doubles player who moved to Thailand in 1992.

 

Despite losing her previous four matches against Li, Ratchanok started well to open up a 9-6 lead, but then lost the next five points before falling 15-10 behind. From 19-12 down, she staged a miraculous recovery, saving match point three times from 20-17 behind as she won the last five points of the game.

 

Ratchanon flanked by Li and fellow 18-year-old, PV Sindhu.

Ratchanon flanked by Li and fellow 18-year-old, PV Sindhu.

Despite the shock at conceding such a healthy lead, the 22-year-old Li levelled matters with a late surge in the second game, setting up a grand showdown.

 

However, Ratchanok took early control of the third game, leading 8-2, and although Li pulled back to within two points at 11-9, the Olympic champion never came any closer. Ratchanok won the next three points, and from 14-12 she again pulled away to 18-12, eventually securing victory on her first match point.

 

“I said I will stick to it, stick to it and fight until the end. When I won, all those tough times in training showed up in my mind and it just felt so rewarding that finally I got it,” said Ratchanok, who adds the trophy to her three World Junior Championships titles.

 

“I never really had the confidence to compete with the really top players before this event. But after today’s win, I have the confidence now that I can beat them.”

 

The Thai teen was all smiles in the press conference.

The Thai teen was all smiles in the press conference.

Ratchanok’s relaxed manner in the match, during which she regularly smiled after losing points and apologised profusely when hitting winners near her opponent, appeared customary for many Thai people, but seemed to have an effect on her opponent.

 

“I was relaxed and maybe Li Xuerui was nervous because she’s the World No. 1. I felt good during the match. I won my first match against her but lost the other four, so it’s amazing I beat her today,” she said.

 

“Li Xuerui had some situations today and was not really playing like her usual self sometimes, so it was a good opportunity and I took my chances.”

 

Li was downcast, but complimented Ratchanok on her performance.

 

“She was very relaxed, which put me under more pressure. She did very well with her tactics and she fought hard as well. The Thai players are improving, especially her, as she’s getting better and better,” Li said.

 

“I don’t know what I was doing in the first game. I kind of got distracted during the match and didn’t play very well. I was kind of passive in the first game and tried hard to get back the second game, but to tell the truth, Ratchanok played really well in the third game.”

 

Ratchanok’s victory over Li ended China’s run of eight victories in the women’s singles, starting from 2001 through to 2011, when Wang Yihan was victorious in London.

 

PV Sindhu, India’s own 18-year-old star, knocked out Wang, the World No. 2, in the third round in Guangzhou, before losing in the semis to Ratchanok, whose victory over Li has ushered in a new generation of non-Chinese women ready to ready to shake up badminton’s world order.

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