Badminton: Big-hearted Nitchaon battles through to face repeat of Uber Cup tussle in S'pore Open semis

Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol smashing against Chinese Taipei’s Chen Su-yu in the Singapore Badminton Open women’s singles quarter-finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on July 20, 2018.
Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol smashing against Chinese Taipei’s Chen Su-yu in the Singapore Badminton Open women’s singles quarter-finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on July 20, 2018. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

She won the first game 25-23, after clawing back three game points, and leading thrice at deuce.

Thailand's Nitchaon Jindapol then took the second game 21-16 to beat Chinese Taipei's Chen Su-yu in the Singapore Badminton Open women's singles quarter-finals at the Singapore Indoor Stadium yesterday.

Asked what went through her mind as she trailed in the pivotal first game, the 27-year-old shuttler smiled, touched the Thai flag on her chest and said: "Just one thing - my heart. I didn't think too much, I just focused on my game.

"During the second game, she was with the draught, so I made it such that she made mistakes and hit the shuttle too long, although in the middle of that game I lost focus and made a few mistakes."

Following the withdrawal of her team-mate and top seed Ratchanok Intanon before the start of the US$355,000 (S$486,000) tournament, the Phuket-born world No. 12 and second seed is the highest-ranked player left in the competition.

Nitchaon recognised that the Singapore Open, a Badminton World Federation World Tour Super 500 tournament, is a good chance for her to win her biggest individual title to date, and add to a stellar season so far.

The Sripatum University business administration graduate won the Thailand Masters - a Super 300 tournament - in January this year, and helped Thailand finish second behind Japan in the Uber Cup in May.

During the latter tournament, Nitchaon scored the second point for the hosts in their shock 3-2 victory over China in the semi-finals, beating Gao Fangjie 19-21, 21-19, 21-12. The two will clash again today in the women's singles semi-finals at the Indoor Stadium, and the 1.63m Thai shuttler is looking forward to the rematch.

Asked whether she was confident of beating Gao again, Nitchaon stuck her neck out and said: "Yes, I will try my best tomorrow, I want to beat her."

Meanwhile, the remaining top seeds all won their matches to qualify for the semi-finals today.

Mixed doubles Olympic champions Ahmad Tontowi and Liliyana Natsir beat Hong Kong's Reginald Lee and Chau Hoi Wah 21-16, 21-15, while Thailand's women's doubles tandem Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai outfought China's Tang Jinhua and Yu Xiaohan 21-19, 26-24.

The Indonesians will face compatriots Akbar Bintang Cahyono and Winny Oktavina Kandow in the last four today, while the Thais will meet Japan's Ayako Sakuramoto and Yukiko Takahata.

Men's singles top seed Chou Tien-chen also reached the last four, following his 21-18, 21-6 win over South Korea's Lee Hyun-il yesterday.

World No. 7 Chou said: "My opponent changed his strategy midway through the first game; I tried to counter that but didn't see any results midway through that game, so we played at the net and battled with our individual speed of play.

"For the second game, I felt that he slowed down and I upped the ante on him."

Chou will face China's Qiao Bin - who he beat 23-21, 21-16 at the India Open in February - in the semi-finals today.

"I haven't seen our head-to-head record, but I will prepare for any opponent I face," he said.