The applause began for a winning stroke on the adjacent non-TV court, and like the Enfield exhaust's extended firing, continued into the longest rally of 30-odd shots that Saina Nehwal won with a stubborn kill in her semifinal against Intanon Ratchanok. The Indian lost the match eventually, with her strapped knee compounding her weary movements, but she had brought out the mental fortitude that makes her such a dangerous player in marathon matches.
Nehwal's ouster from All England was unfortunate, but hardly alarming, given her wobbly fitness. And Ratchanok, with her languid strokes and easy movements, made Nehwal look duller and half a second slower than she really was.
Throughout her match, and even in her final against eventual champ Tine Baun, Ratchanok floated around the court, prompting commentators to liken her to a practitioner of the Birmingham Royal Ballet. But supple wrists are prettier than pointed toes in badminton, and her drops and tosses, cross-courts and dribbles at the net seemed to be guided by a wizard's mischievous wand rather than a racquet. Ratchanok's last-second flicks, made with what seemed an after-thought of a snap of wrist, and her graceful movements made her appear longer-limbed in her reach, even if, at 5'7", she's not much taller than Nehwal.
In an age of women's singles badminton in which the dominant Chinese browbeat opponents with aggressive smashing or apply a patient interrogator's slow torture of long rallies — which Nehwal herself excels at — here was an 18-year-old Thai making the All England finals solely by rolling her elastic wrist.
Ratchanok is in the same mould as Thai men's player Boonsak Ponsana, who though a treat to watch when he mixed things up, could never find the biggest breaks. Badminton watchers, hence, are cautious to predict greatness for the three-time Junior World champion.