BANGKOK—In the end, it wasn’t quite the humiliation some badminton fans had come to see.
Bangkok’s 60-year-old police chief, Lt. Gen. Kamronwit Toopkracha, put in a creditable performance in an exhibition match against Thailand’s new teenage badminton star, Ratchanok Inthanon, on Wednesday – although that perhaps was because he had recruited Thai international player Grithtin Kridtanukoon to help him in a doubles game against the newly crowned world champion, who was assigned Lt. Gen. Kamronwit’s deputy as her partner.
The police chief’s team lost 2 sets to 1.
Since her triumph at the world badminton championships in Guangzhou, China, over the weekend, 18-year-old Ms. Ratchanok has become one of the most recognizable figures in Thailand as well as a bold new face in the badminton world after breaking the dominance of China and other big nations in the sport, South Korea and Indonesia.
Members of Thailand’s royal family have sent her and her family bouquets and she has appeared on a host of television shows and on the cover of dozens of newspapers and magazines.
This frenzy of attention prompted Lt. Gen. Kamronwit to repeatedly deny that Wednesday’s match wasn’t a stunt designed to cash in on 18-year-old Ms. Ratchanok’s sudden popularity. Rather than furthering any political ambitions, as pursued by several other prominent officers before him, the trim police chief says he has played the game enthusiastically for years and wanted to give something back.
Even before Ms. Ratchanok had become the first Thai to win a world championship, Lt. Gen. Kamronwit said he and his friends had raised 600,000 baht, or some $19,000, to pay Ms. Ratchanok at Bangkok’s police headquarters.
“This is my way of providing some support,” Lt. Gen. Kamronwit said before the face-off began.
The publicity can’t have done him any harm, though. Scores of reporters thronged into a hall at the rear of the headquarters to see the match. They were joined by cheering police officers and badminton fans, some waving flags or blowing oversize kazoos.
At one point they were joined by a man who pretended to operate a chicken with a dummy remote-control unit.
Lt. Gen. Kamronwit’s enthusiasm was also clearly visible. After a brief warmup, he made a slow start, flubbing several shots into the net and allowing Ms. Ratchanok and his police understudy to gain an untouchable lead.
The police chief, dressed in a natty blue top, found his footing in the second set, however, combining neatly with Mr. Grithtin to force Ms. Ratchanok’s partner, deputy metropolitan police chief Maj. Gen. Ittipol Piriyapinyo, to clatter into one of the net support posts.
In the third set, though, Ms. Ratchanok and Maj. Gen. Ittipol Piriyapinyo began to pull ahead, as she sent a series of smashes ricocheting through Lt. Gen. Kamronwit’s legs, even as she seemed to pull her punches on some other shots.
Overall, Lt. Gen. Kamronwit said he was satisfied with his performance. “It was very enjoyable and I learned a lot from playing a world-class player,” he said. “I discovered that after all these years I’ve been holding the racket wrongly and putting my feet in the wrong place.”
“But I’m just a temple-fair player,” or an amateur, he said.
Ms. Ratchanok, meanwhile, said she was grateful for the police chief’s support. “I’ll do my best to retain my title and win a gold medal at the Olympics” in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, she said. The workout came in handy, too. She said she hasn’t had any practice since winning the world title over the weekend, although she hopes to fit some in on Friday.
Ms. Ratchanok did turn down one offer from Thailand’s police, however, at least for the time being: The post of officer on the force.
“I’ll think about that later, after graduating college,” she said.