05 Jul 2020

One of the greatest aspects of sport is its constant evolution, whether it be the technical aspect or from where the next crop of world beaters will hail.

The Asian continent boasts some of the biggest names in professional table tennis and now Thailand is looking to add its name to the conversation as the continent’s major emerging force.

by Simon Daish

The passing of the baton

Owing much of its success to two long-standing stalwarts of the game, Thailand’s main efforts on the international table tennis scene had very much been led for many a year by Anissara Muangsuk and Nanthana Komwong.

Both players making their debuts in the 1990s, Muangsuk and Komwong performed admirably for their country on the biggest of stages whether it be on an individual level or as a handy doubles pair.

Always looking to play on the front foot, Muangsuk enjoyed a lengthy spell as player before her eventual retirement in 2012. Muangsuk still remains a key part of the country’s plans, assuming her role as coach. As for Komwong, her career has taken her to five Olympic Games so far with her first coming at Sydney 2000; the 39-year-old to this day remains a role model for Thai table tennis.

History makers

In more recent years the focus of Thailand’s women’s team has been on promoting its younger talents, a move that appears to be paying off.

The likes of Orawan Paranang, Suthasini and Jinnipa Sawettabut have become well accustomed to representing their country on the international stage – in May 2018 two of the trio combined to lead Thailand to new heights!

Playing with home support on their side, Suthasini Sawettabut and Orawan Paranang battled past Japan’s Satsuki Odo and Saki Shibata to secure a historic women’s doubles title at the 2018 ITTF Challenge Thailand Open. A first-ever gold medal for Thailand in any discipline of the ITTF Challenge Series or ITTF World Tour, and with it the start of a bright new chapter for table tennis in the country.

Young talent also thriving on men’s side

The history-making occasion from two years ago will serve as great inspiration for the country’s young stars, and there are plenty of them too.

Notably, Thailand’s male contingent also boasts a youthful look with all ten of the country’s world ranked players aged 24 and under! The man leading the way is Supanut Wisutmaythangkoon in position no.108, a player whose name you may recognise as a regular on the ITTF World Tour and ITTF Challenge Series.

However, there is another player beginning to make positive waves on the international stage in Yanapong Panagitgun. A teenage ace, who produced an eye-catching result with his title-winning campaign at the SET 2019 Thailand Junior and Cadet Open, Yanapong has shown he has what it takes to win trophies and surely has an exciting future ahead of him.

Yanapong Panagitgun achieved a top 16 finish at the NSDF 2019 ITTF World Junior Championships (Photo: Table Tennis Association of Thailand)
Can balanced Thai team join Asia’s elite line-up?

China, Japan and Korea Republic are considered by many to be the three major forces on the Asian table tennis scene, while the likes of Hong Kong China, Chinese Taipei and India are also in the running.

Is there a case to argue, however, that Thailand might be next in line? Singapore defied all expectations to strike women’s team gold at the 2010 World Team Championships while DPR Korea’s Kim Song I and Cha Hyo Sim have made headlines over the past four years.

However, when viewing the picture as a whole, one could point to the Thai set up as a more well-rounded approach across both its men’s and women’s contingent. Only time will tell if the country’s young players will push on and take things to the next level, but there’s understandably a sense of excitement surrounding the camp.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, it’s difficult to ignore the rising force from southeast Asia that is Thailand!

Features Yanapong Panagitgun Suthasini Sawettabut Jinnipa Sawettabut Orawan Paranang Supanut Wisutmaythangkoon Nanthana Komwong Anissara Muangsuk