SINGAPORE – In a battle of headband-wearing badminton aces, it was South Korean starlet An Se-young who triumphed over veteran Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei at the Singapore Open, as the world No. 2 dispatched Tai 21-16, 21-14 in the women’s singles semi-finals on Saturday.
The 22-year-old will face Japan’s world No. 1 Akane Yamaguchi next at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Incredibly, this is her eighth consecutive final this season, as the Korean hunts for her fifth title after victories in the India Open, Indonesia Masters, All England Open and Thailand Open.
Her performances have got the fraternity talking, with some lauding her as the new queen of badminton.
An said: “When people tell me this is unbelievable, I feel time has flown by and I just want to focus on each match as they come. I’m still young and I have to enjoy my badminton. If I take this as pressure, then it’s pressure.”
Since the Gwangju native picked up a racket aged seven at the Pungam Elementary School, she has been hard at work on her skills, breaking into the national team at 15.
Badminton commentator and former doubles world champion Gillian Clark noted during the game that An “has got it all,” in reference to her fitness and outstanding defence.
An had previously said that her playing style was “more attacking, but it used to make me more tired and burnt out easily”. It has since evolved to be “more all-rounded”, which has proven a success on the court as she has made 23 finals and won 15 titles.
Against 28-year-old Tai – who is set to retire in 2024 – she was like a brick wall, playing brilliant net shots to induce errors while converting unbelievable retrievals into winners.
An added: “If I say my performance is perfect then I shouldn’t give any points to my opponent. It should be 21-0. But I’m still giving points away to my opponent right now, so I still want to improve and learn through focusing on every single match and every practice.”
Some badminton fans may also have noticed An squinting during matches, but as the Aug 21-28 World Championships and the 2024 Paris Olympics come around, she insists her vision is clear. She said: “Squinting is a habit. The more I’m nervous, the more I do it.
“Off the court, I’m more shy and introverted. If I hold back, and become scared of making mistakes, I may miss out on an attacking opportunity. But on the court, I just want to keep moving, and be aggressive and do whatever I can to win.”
And in the blink of an eye, this fierce competitor turned into a shy young woman on Sunday, as she brandished a hand-written note by a fan, sharing that she likes to keep such heartfelt gifts as they make her happy.
And her rivals should beware, for happiness, and a shiny gold medal, is what An seeks in Paris.