World #22 Brian Yang of Canada came up just short in his first outing of the year, at the 2023 Malaysia Open, losing in three to Thailand’s Kantaphon Wangcharoen.

Story: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur
Photos: Yves Lacroix and Erika Sawauchi for Badmintonphoto (live)

Brian Yang looked to be in control early in his match with Kantaphon Wangcharoen but the Thai edged ahead at the first game interval and never surrendered the lead before taking the one-game lead.  The Canadian displayed excellent court coverage and shot selection but just didn’t have the speed or the consistency of his opponent at some of the crucial stages.

Although Wangcharoen has been as high as #12 in the world rankings, Yang, now just one rung below his highest ever ranking of #21, was actually the favourite on paper going into this Super 1000 event.

Though not exactly representative of fortunes in the match, there was an interesting pair of points in how each player dealt with some short lifts.  Trailing 13-16 in the opening game, Yang executed a half-pirouette to change his smash direction and put the shuttle right to the floor but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sustain the comeback.

At almost the same position after the change of ends, early in the second game, Wangcharoen leapt to smash a short lift and completely fanned on the shot.  This time it would portend a change of fortunes as the Thai would end up losing the second game and having to play a decider.  He remained consistent in the third, however, and saw his way through to the second round, where he will face team-mate Kunlavut Vitidsarn.

“I had control but I just wasn’t putting it away,” said Brian Yang after the match.  “It was hard to find good quality in my shots with the windy conditions.  He was then able to get back into the rallies and hit some winners himself.

“Ever since I started playing these Super-level tournaments, from Super 100 and up, I’ve always been travelling and playing by myself.  There is another Canadian touring, Michelle Li [shown below during her win against Line Christophersen], but we travel separately so for the most part, I’m on my own.  This means that I really have to be independent, not only on-court but off-court as well – getting practice, getting transport, booking hotels and the like – but the main thing is on court, I don’t have someone behind me to reassure me and to remind me of certain things I need to be reminded of.

“Even things like the wind direction, I think it’s easier to remember when someone’s telling you, rather than you reminding yourself in your head.  It’s always nice to be at these top-tier tournaments and I’m glad I’m where I am right now but I think with a coach, I’d be able to do better at them for sure.”

Brian Yang has really been coming up in the badminton world, where it has been rare to see a men’s singles player from the Pan Am region knocking at the door of the world’s top 20.  Periodic upsets from players like Olympic semi-finalist Kevin Cordon of Guatemala have been somewhat more familiar but Yang himself has racked up his own list of upset victims, having beaten the likes of Loh Kean Yew, Lakshya Sen, and Lu Guangzu in the past two years.

Achieving a position as the Pan Am region’s representative in the top tier, though, is not what Brian Yang says he is shooting for: “I’ve just been focussing on getting to the best that I can be.  I’ve never really focussed on trying to be the best in Canada.  I’m just trying to be the best I can be, wherever that gets me.  If that means that I will be the most successful in men’s singles in Canada then that’s just a bonus.”

As for following Kevin Cordon’s lead, though, Yang said, “He has been around for a long time and he had a super-great performance at the Olympics.  He’s a really great player and I’ve played against him a lot. I think there’s a lot more from the Pan Am region nowadays and it’s good to have competition in the region.”

As for his own performance at the Olympics and beyond, Yang said, “I had a really good match against Chou Tien Chen.  It went to three games and the third went to extra points.  I think that was the turning point in my career.  After that, I started playing really well.  That’s when I started playing the higher-level tournaments and I beat some of the top competitors in the world after that so I think that’s where it started.”

Brian Yang admitted that sparring constitutes one drawback to becoming the biggest fish on his side of the pond: “In Canada, there’s not a lot of players in the first place and not a lot at the highest level, so there’s not a lot of 1v1 sparring when I’m in Canada but recently, Viktor Axelsen has been inviting me to Dubai for training so that’s where I get the best sparring in the world because he is the best in the world so I’m really grateful for that.

“I think that defense is the biggest strength that I have.  I think I’ve been improving recently but I still need a lot of work in my attacking play.  I mean, I can smash but a bit more variety would be a big benefit.”

For the immediate future, Brian Yang is looking ahead to three more weeks of solo travelling and high-level competition, as he is entered in the India Open, Indonesia Masters, and Thailand Masters, where he will be looking for his first success of the new year.

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