Ratchanok Intanon is a magnificent player.
She is so elegant – almost balletic – she glides around the court with incredibly light feet. This graceful style is one of the features that makes her so enjoyable to watch. There’s a lot of depth and technical skill to her game so this combination makes her a very successful competitor and a tricky opponent to beat.
May is loved by all and is a very popular player on the circuit; it’s not unusual to see photos of her socialising with the Japanese players and recently it emerged she had played doubles in an exhibition match with Nozomi Okuhara.
May’s 24 though it seems like we have enjoyed watching her for years: she turned professional in 2007 and first exploded onto the international scene when she was only 14. How she came to the sport is quite a well-known story. Her parents worked at a sweet factory in Bangkok whose owner encouraged his employees children to play at the factory’s badminton courts to keep them away from the cooking and hot sugar. Her natural athleticism was recognised and so she was encouraged and supported to follow her pathway to success.
The compilation video below by Shuttle Flash calls her ‘Queen of Comebacks’ and I think this is a strong element of her approach. She doesn’t know when she is beaten; it’s rare that she just gives in. This must partly be the result of her experience but it also says something about her as a person. She is renowned for her determination and focus in training so I think this attitude carries through into matches quite easily.
She won the Vietnam International Challenge in 2009 she was just 14, then became the youngest ever winner of the BWF World Junior Championships also when she was still 14. In 2013 she was triumphed in the BWF World Championships beating Li Xuerui over 3 games in the final and is still the youngest ever singles winner of that event. That year she also suffered from a foot injury and a back problem which limited the other tournaments she entered. The following two years were reasonably quiet by her standards – perhaps the older players had ‘found her out’ and possibly she lost some fitness through injuries – however 2016 is a different story.
Rio Olympic year saw Ratchanok win 3 Superseries titles in a row (India, Malaysia, Singapore): she beat Li Xuerui, Tai Tzu Ying and Sun Yu in each of the finals. This extraordinary run of form saw her become the first Thai to hold the world Number One spot, qualify for the Olympics, and was the flag bearer at the opening ceremony. In spite of this she was halted by Akane Yamaguchi and didn’t get beyond the round of 16; the rest of the year fizzled out somewhat owing to the knee injury she picked up in Rio.
Since then there are so many achievements, an honour roll can’t begin to tell the whole story. I cannot remember ever seeing her play an ugly game. She has a beautiful touch at the net; it’s almost as though she can hold the shot back for a split second longer than the opponent expects – so not strictly speaking deception but still deceptive. She can vary the pace of the game and this tactic often disrupts her rivals rhythm.
She has a ‘fast racket’ and great technique which of course means that a full armoury of shots are at her fingertips. She is 169cm tall and uses her height and reach shrewdly, I love seeing her set up net kills that she executes so sharply. Her reverse slice drop shot is a thing of beauty, there are also punchy clears plus she has a dangerous straight and cross court smash. Her precision is outstanding; she will consistently place the shuttle right on the line.
So what does the future hold? She has been clear about her ambition:
“…to win an Olympic gold medal and to be Number 1 in the world”
Is Tokyo Gold a realistic possibility? In terms of ability and experience definitely yes but we can all name some outstanding players who will stand in her way. Morten Frost pointed out that the key to that medal will lie in the seeding and her weakness is that she is stagnating as a top 10 player. The consistency needed to stay in the top 10 for as long as her is remarkable but she needs to be in the top 4 so she can avoid meeting competitors like Akane or Tai Tzu Ying until the semi finals.
It seems to me that she has lots of motivations for playing. Partly she has been driven by her desire to provide for her family but it also is important that she enjoys her games. Similar to Tai Tzu Ying she is not really a percentage player – I think she revels in her skills – for instance when she plays a cross court over the net to mid court it could go horribly wrong. It’s death or glory, but the glory on offer is too delightful to ignore. She’s an intelligent woman who loves her sport and is loved by everyone who watches her – we all want this refined, clever player to continue to win and make history.
Follow the links to read more about two of her main rivals. My article about Nozomi Okuhara is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/ and Tai Tzu Ying is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/03/18/tai-tzu-ying-taiwans-sporting-icon/