Reserved Ratchanok

She created history last year by becoming the youngest shuttler to win a title - the women's singles - at the World Championships.

But Thailand's world No. 4 Ratchanok Intanon does not feel that she belongs to the elite class of shuttlers with bragging rights just yet.

"I may have won the world championships last year but, in my mind, I am not a world champion yet," said the 19-year-old at the OUE Singapore Open press conference at the Mandarin Orchard yesterday.

"I have to be more stable in my play and gain a lot more experience, in addition to doing well at major competitions, such as the Asian Games and the Olympics."

She added that she would need to beat top players such as China's Wang Yihan, whom she has not overcome in eight outings, and learn to adapt to their playing styles before she can be considered a master of the game.

The polite teenager has certainly come a long way from her humble beginnings. Ratchanok picked up the sport at age five, in a yard of a sweet factory while waiting for her parents to finish work.

She won Thailand's junior national championship just two years later, and became the youngest world junior champion at 14 in 2009 in Malaysia.

She won the latter title two more times before her biggest scalp of her career - a 22-20, 18-21, 21-14 final victory over reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui at the World Championships in Guangzhou last August.


But being catapulted into badminton's stratosphere has its downside.

"After the world championships, I have become tense (because of my title) and can't play my best game... some people would say that I can win the world championship and not a Super Series and it would affect me," said Ratchanok, who won the India Super Series last April.

She showed signs of cracking at the All England Open last month, when she survived close shaves in the earlier rounds before crashing 21-18, 21-8 to China's Li in the semi-finals.

"I know all the players are studying me and my style after the world championships and I have to keep changing my style to stay ahead," said Ratchanok.

Being the new darling among her countryman is a double-edged sword, she added.

"Sometimes people would come up to me when I am having my dinner and ask to take a photograph with me, and sometimes I will get distracted by this," she said. "But I know it's because they are proud of me and want me to do well in my competitions and to be the world No. 1."

Ratchanok will start her OUE Singapore Open campaign against Malaysia's Tee Jing Yi at the Singapore Indoor Stadium tomorrow.

The Super Series tournament's third seed could meet China's Wang in the semi-finals, and Li in the final.

The Thai said: "Of course I want to win another Super Series title, but my first target is to at least qualify for the quarter-finals.

"My biggest lesson from the world championships is learning how to handle the pressure.

"Now I just want to play like I do in training and not think about winning."

I know all the players are studying me and my style after the world championships and I have to keep changing my style to stay ahead.


This article was published on April 10 in The New Paper.

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