Two-time world junior champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn is ready for the toughest challenge in his life today when he faces former Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan of China in the opening round of the Princess Sirivannavari Thailand Masters.
The 18-year-old, along with former Thai international Pannawit Thongnuam, survived two qualification rounds to earn their men’s singles main-draw berths at the Hua Mark Indoor Stadium.
While Pannawit has been drawn against the 60th-ranked Thomas Rouxel of France, the teenager must overcome world No 13 and top seed Lin, the Olympic champion in both Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
“I’m excited to get to play one of my idols,” said Kunlavut, who became Thailand’s first ever junior world champion in Indonesia in 2017 and successfully defended his crown in Canada last year.
“I want to succeed the way he has achieved,” added Kunlavut, who was just three years old when the Chinese won his maiden All England title in 2004.
Despite being a huge underdog going into the match, the local rising star hopes to at least get some chances to produce an upset.
“He is an all-round player, with both an aggressive style and a solid defence. However he is not as fast as before so that will be something I have to take advantage of,” said Kunlavut, who is fully 17 years younger than his opponent.
A total of six local men are in the 32-player main draw: Thai No 1 and world No 15 Kantaphon Wangcharoen lines up in an all-Thai affair with Sitthikom Thammasin, while Thai No 2 and world No 16 Khosit Phetpradab faces Zhao Junpeng of China.
The other Thai in the draw, Suppanyu Avihingsanon, will play Wong Wing Ki Vincent of Hong Kong.
While Thais have dominated the women’s singles since the event was first held in 2016 – Ratchanon Intanon won in 2016, followed by Busanan Ongbamrungphan in 2017 and Nichaon Jindapol in 2018 – the Thai men have yet to capture the singles crown.
Kantaphon came closest in 2017, when he lost in the final to Tommy Sugiarto but the Indonesian is not returning to try to complete the hat-trick this time.