6 June 2024

Supanida Katethong stepped up as the heir to Thailand’s badminton throne on Sunday when she stunned the tournament favorite to be crowned Thailand Open champion.

The 26-year-old Thai shuttler captured the Super 500 title in front of an electrified home crowd, defeating top seed and world No 7 Han Yue of China in straight games, 21-16, 23-21.

Supanida’s path to her breakthrough victory was anything but straightforward, however.

She met the onslaught from her Chinese opponent with incredible agility and a never-say-die attitude, clawing her way back from a game point down to grab the trophy.

This tenacity was key to securing her first Super 500 title, and only her second World Tour win since clinching the US Open, a 300 event, last year.

The triumph was especially sweet for the 16th-ranked Supanida following the heartbreak of losing several finals including the Thailand Masters earlier this year.

“I’m so happy to win my first 500 title, especially on home soil. I have to acknowledge the many fans who came to root for me, which really boosted my confidence,” said a beaming Supanida.

Roars from the home crowd added a spine-tingling emotional resonance to her triumph.

Supanida’s journey to badminton’s summit has been a tough one, marked by a lifetime’s dedication and resilience.

Enduring a punishing training regime, injuries, and constant pressure to refine her skills, the spirit of a true champion has finally shone through.

Her performance at the Thailand Open showcased not only her technical abilities but also her mental fortitude.

The way she maneuvered Han around the court, her razor-sharp reflexes, and her strategic shot placements were not only a testament to innate talent but also to the hours upon hours, week after week, spent in the gym and on practice courts.

“I was really patient and only made a few errors. Even when I was down at some points, I fought my way back,” she reflected after scoring her biggest career win.

On her way to the final, she also upset Indonesia’s world No 9 Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, and No 8 Wang Zhiyi of China.

Path to the top

Sunday’s triumph places Supanida in an exclusive club as only the second Thai woman to win the Thailand Open singles after badminton icon Ratchanok “May” Intanon in 2017.

Her win marked a personal milestone but also reinforced Thailand’s reputation as a breeding ground for global badminton stars.

Her success will also swing a domestic spotlight onto the sport, inspiring young athletes to pursue their dreams.

Supanida acknowledged the crucial role that her coach, South Korean Kim Ji-hyun, has played in her climb to the summit of international badminton.

“Since she started coaching me, she has helped me address my weaknesses and enhance my strengths. She also taught me about mindset and how to become more mature.”

Kim’s mentorship has paid off, as seen in her protégé’s improved performances and strategic play.

Dubbed the “left-handed May” to differentiate her from Thai badminton queen Ratchanok, Supanida’s rise to prominence is timely.

Her recent impressive form has sparked new hope for Thai badminton just as several veteran stars begin to fade.

She has become the new Thai No 1, moving to a career-high of 12th in the updated BWF rankings and passing Ratchanok who fell to 13th.

As the badminton world turns its gaze towards this year’s Paris Olympics, all eyes will be on Supanida as a medal contender.

Her recent victories have boosted her confidence, and she is determined to build on the momentum.

Despite her rise to “badminton royalty”, Supanida remains grounded and focused on improving her game.

“There are still aspects for me to work on. I have to focus on my defensive game, be a bit more patient sometimes, and try to stay solid in long rallies,” she said.

Her concentration remains firmly fixed on the challenges that lie ahead, especially Paris.

Olympic contender

“The Olympics will be a lot tougher. I need to work on these aspects to prepare for it,” she added.

In a sport that demands the perfect pitch of stamina, agile strength, and mental sharpness, Supanida has proven she has what it takes to compete with the best.

Her triumph at the Thailand Open is a harbinger of more victories to come, and as she sets her sights on the Olympics, the world will be watching, cheering, and believing in the rise of Thailand’s new badminton sensation.

By Thai PBS World’s Sport Desk