China strode into their 13th straight final of the World Mixed Team Championships for the Sudirman Cup today with a 3-0 rout of Thailand.
The ten-time winners are now one win away from reclaiming the title they lost at the last edition to Korea – which was only their second loss since 1993.
Raw men’s singles and underwhelming men’s doubles meant that Thailand’s hopes were pinned on the opening mixed doubles, for Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai were among the few pairs to have beaten the world’s best duo, Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong, at the Singapore Open recently.
The Thais were flawless to begin with. They used soft crosscourt shots to take away the pace at which the Chinese revel and to keep Huang Yaqiong out of the action, and forced Zheng to dart from side to side with well-directed alternating high clears to the deep corners.
These tactics helped them to 12-7, raising visions of an early strike for Thailand.
Dip in Intensity
But the effort needed sustained discipline and intensity, and it was Taerattanachai who slipped first, caught napping by two flicked serves from Huang and making straightforward errors in defence. The slight let-up was all that the Chinese needed; Zheng was once again a storm at the back, and Huang miserly at the front.
Puavaranukroh and Taerattanachai were fending off attacks and erred in clearing down the middle, from where Zheng’s attacks grew more potent. It fell into a pattern in which the Thais stood no chance. Zheng and Huang blew their opponents away in the second game: 21-18 21-7.
Taerattanachai admitted they could not wrest back the momentum: “We could only lift down the middle and they could attack us. Zheng was able to control us and we could not keep up our early tactics due to the pressure.”
Spirited Show from Wangcharoen
The young Thai refused to be intimidated by the occasion or the reputation of his opponent. Like a young pugilist reeling from his opponent’s blows but refusing to back down, Wangcharoen was stubborn in the rallies and grabbed the half-chances that came his way.
He saved two match points and himself earned four, missing the last with a smash that went just wide. Shi had the experience and the ability to last out the test, and he duly converted his third match point (21-15 26-24) to extend China’s lead.
The Thais provided something of a contest in the second game, staying level until 17, after which Li and Liu snuffed out the challenge, 21-14 21-17.
Chinese singles coach Xia Xuanze spoke appreciatively of his team: “It hasn’t been an easy journey to the final. I’m happy for all the players. The team is very young – most of them were born after 1996. I know they will all give their 100 per cent in the final.”
“We analysed the match after that loss and were prepared. As for our opponents I think their attitude changed as well after defeating us for the first time. That loss was a good lesson for us.” – Zheng Siwei, on recovering from the Singapore Open loss to Puavaranukroh/Taerattanachai