BANGKOK – Thailand’s media has cheered teen star Ratchanok Intanon with a flurry of ecstatic headlines today as the nation celebrated a first gold at the badminton world championships.
Ratchanok, who is just 18 and still has braces on her teeth, sprang a shock as she defeated China’s Olympic champion Li Xuerui 22-20, 18-21, 21-14 yesterday in Li’s own backyard.
Pictures of the smiling teenager gripping her trophy after the showdown in Guangzhou adorned almost every front page as Thailand revelled in a rare ray of golden glory.
“Thai badminton roars, May swats China and collects the championship,” proclaimed the Thai language Thairath newspaper, referring to Ratchanok by her nickname.
“May — a historic champion. The whole nation is elated,” said the Siamsport newspaper.
Ratchanok’s unexpected victory over Li, who was herself aiming for her first world title, breaks China’s stranglehold on the championship.
It is also a fairytale win for the teen, whose career started aged five when the owner of the factory where her parents worked sent her to train at a nearby badminton academy.
The teenager, regarded as one of the best young players in women’s badminton, supports her family through her sporting career.
Kamala Thongkorn, who owns both the factory and the badminton school, attended the final.
“This is another triumph — we did not expect that success would be this fast,” she told AFP.
“I am so proud of her,” said the 54-year-old Kamala, who is also Ratchanok’s godmother.
Ratchanok, who returned to her homeland yesterday, was one of a host of young people to receive an award for being an exemplary child in a ceremony for Mother’s Day today, which marks the birthday of Thailand’s Queen Sirikit.
She was also set to be honoured at the Badminton Association of Thailand.
Ratchanok combined skill and stamina in her match against the more experienced Li, appearing relaxed as she pushed her Chinese rival around the court with a wide repertoire of shots.
She took the Thailand Open this year and is the only person to have won three junior world championship titles in a row.
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