Three-time semi-finalist and world No8 Ratchanok Intanon toughened it out to beat Chinese arch-rival Chen Yufei 21-18 20-22 21-17 to start her group B campaign in style in the BWF World Tour Finals in Guangzhou on Wednesday.
Throughout the long exciting rallies during the 78-minute match, Ratchanok had to dig deep to upset the world No 3, who had entered the match with a 7-1 head-to-head record over the Thai.
Ratchanok, who at 18 years old became the youngest world champion in the same Chinese city in 2013, came from behind to take the opening game in 21 minutes before the Chinese raised her level to level the tie by taking the second set in 30 minutes.
In the final set, Ratchanok led from the start but could not pull clear, until at 17-16 down, Chen lunged for a drop shot, hurt her left ankle and needed on-court treatment.
When play resumed, Ratchanok dictated four points in a row to finally score her second career win over Chen. The Thai No 1 will next play 2017 world champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan on Thursday.
In men’s group B first round-robin match, Thai No 2 Kantaphon Wangcharoen suffered his four straight defeat to Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia who beat him 21-18 18-21 21-11.
A total of six Thais have qualified for the BWF Finals this year – the mixed doubles team of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai beat Goh Soon Huat and Lai Shevon Jemie of Malaysia 21-19 21-10 but women’s doubles Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai lost to Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan 21-14 21-8.
Elsewhere in the men’s draw, world badminton champion Kento Momota made a lightning start, rampaging past India’s overwhelmed Sameer Verma in just 36 minutes.
The Japanese star is looking to put the seal on a breakthrough year in which he has risen to No1 in the rankings and become world champion for the first time.
It is all a far cry from 2016, when Momota was expelled from Japan’s team for the Rio Olympics and banned for more than a year for visiting an illegal casino.
The 24-year-old had too much quality and power for Verma, ranked 14th in the world, thrashing him 21-18, 21-6 to confirm his status as the man to beat in Guangzhou.
Also untroubled in her opener was the women’s No1, Tai Tzu-ying from Tawian, who defeated Zhang Beiwen of the United States 21-15, 21-17 in 30 minutes.