Thailand Open badminton: The history, champions and a special 2021

Initiated in 1984, the Thailand Open experienced a historic year in 2021.

4 min By Utathya Nag
Kidambi Srikanth was the first men's badminton player to win the Thailand Open.
(Picture by 2019 Getty Images)

Since its inception, the Thailand Open has been an integral part of the global badminton calendar.

Following a COVID-disrupted 2020, the tournament played a crucial role in bringing the world badminton calendar back on track after several cancellations and postponements due to the pandemic.

In fact, 2021 witnessed an unprecedented two Thailand Opens in a single calendar year.

Here’s a look at Thailand Open’s history, past champions and Indian players’ performances at the event.

Thailand Open history

The first-ever edition of the Thailand Open was played in 1984.

Organised by the Badminton Association of Thailand in Bangkok, the tournament has been an annual feature in the international badminton calendar since, barring 1986, 1998, 2002, 2010, 2014 and 2020 – when the tournament had to be scrapped due to various reasons.

The first edition of the Thailand Open featured men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles and women’s doubles. Mixed doubles was introduced from its third edition in 1987.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) – the world governing body for the sport of badminton – categorised it as one of the seven Grade 2 level 4 (Super 500) events under the revised tournament rankings structure it introduced from 2018.

Grade 1 tournaments under the current structure include major events like the Olympics, Thomas and Uber Cups and the BWF World Championships. The Grade 2 events feature the BWF World Tour competitions.

The BWF World Tour Finals is the solitary Grade 2 level 1 event, while level 2 includes the Super 1000 events like All England Open, China Open and Indonesia Open.

Level 3 includes the Denmark Open, Japan Open, Malaysia Open and the Fuzhou China Open – all Super 750 tournaments.

A special year for Thailand Open

However, the January 2021 Thailand Open editions were special cases.

Keeping in mind that the majority of the 2020 BWF World Tour tournaments were cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic, the BWF hosted two Thailand Opens - the Yonex Thailand Open (from January 12 to 17) and the Toyota Thailand Open (January 19 to 24) - this year.

Furthermore, both the Thailand Opens were also upgraded to Super 1000 (Grade 2 level 2) events in a bid to help badminton players rake up BWF ranking points.

Despite being played in 2021, the two events were part of the 2020 BWF World Tour and acted as the qualifiers for the 2020 BWF World Tour Finals - which marked an end to the COVID-impacted 2020 badminton season and ushered in the new season.

Thailand Open champions and successful nations

Indonesian badminton great Icuk Sugiarto was the first-ever men’s champion in the Thailand Open while English shuttler Helen Troke holds the honours in women’s singles.

However, it has been Chinese shuttlers who have dominated the tournament over the years.

With a total of 58 winners’ medals (nine in men’s singles, 16 in women’s singles, seven in men’s doubles, 17 in women’s doubles and nine in mixed doubles), China has been the most successful nation in Thailand Open history.

Indonesia, with 38 (ten in men’s singles, four in women’s singles, 12 in men’s doubles, six in women’s doubles and six in mixed doubles) titles, are second on the leaderboard, followed by South Korea, host nation Thailand and Japan.

Some of the greats of the game like Olympic champions Alan Budikusuma, Lin Dan, Chen Long, Susi Susanti and others have all left their marks on the tournament.

Barcelona 1992 gold medallist Susanti, in fact, won the women’s singles title four times from 1991 to 1994 – a record in the Thailand Open history.

Susi Susanti won the Thailand Open women’s singles title four years in a row.
Susi Susanti won the Thailand Open women’s singles title four years in a row.

Indian successes at the Thailand Open

In the very first edition back in 1984, Indian badminton ace Prakash Padukone reached the final but had to settle for runners up prize after a loss to eventual champion Sugiarto. The Indonesian was the reigning world champion back then.

It took India 28 more years to win their first title at the Thailand Open.

Just over a month before Saina Nehwal’s historic bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the Indian ace beat local favourite Ratchanok Intanon in the final to clinch the Thailand Open 2012 women’s singles event.

Saina Nehwal was the first Indian to win the Thailand Open.
Saina Nehwal was the first Indian to win the Thailand Open. (2017 Getty Images)

Kidambi Srikanth followed it up by winning the men’s singles event in 2013, beating Thai player Boonsak Ponsana in the final. B Sai Praneeth emulated Srikanth’s success four years later, winning the 2017 men’s singles edition.

In 2019, doubles success followed with Satwiksairaj Ranjireddy and Chirag Shetty putting together an incredible run. The duo beat reigning men’s doubles world champions Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen of China in what was a marathon final lasting almost two hours and thirty minutes.

The victory also marked India’s first doubles title at a BWF Super 500 event.

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