With PV Sindhu trailing 10-17 in the second game of the title clash at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bali on Sunday, she was engaged in one of the longer rallies against Korea’s An Seyoung. The shot quality of the point, something that commentators and coaches look at while analysing a match, was quite high. Both players were moving each other on the court, getting nice angles and lengths on their shots. After 13 shots, An pushed the shuttle to the backcourt in response to a lovely drop from Sindhu. The Indian had to backtrack, but she got there with time to spare.
Now, against Akane Yamaguchi at the All England Open quarterfinal earlier this year, Sindhu had produced a moment of magic while back-tracking similarly to her forehand side. A crosscourt winner of the highest quality. On that occasion, Yamaguchi was left stunned by it. But on Sunday in Bali, An Seyoung had already taken a step to the right from mid-court, waiting for that crosscourt to come at her full pace. What followed was a simple tap to close out the point.
“Oh, she’s seen that as well,” said former world No 1 Morten Frost on air, immediately when the point happened. A rather simple line, but one that summed up the final.
An saw pretty much everything from Sindhu... one tiny step ahead of her opponent, anticipating where the shuttle was going to be and being ready for it. Sure, she made some errors. Sure, Sindhu made a few more and it wasn’t the closest of contests. But the Indian did not play poorly. She had just beaten the second seed Akane Yamaguchi in a match of incredibly high quality a day earlier. She was in good rhythm and yet the Korean raced to a 21-16, 21-12 victory in 39 minutes.
That win marked the end of an extraordinary three weeks in Bali as the Indonesian badminton festival came to an end with the BWF World Tour Finals. She won the Indonesia Masters without dropping a game. She won the Indonesia Open without dropping a game. And she made it three wins out of three against Sindhu, all in straight games till date.
The bandana wearing teenage ninja on the court considers Ratchanok Intanon to be her idol. At the end of the Indonesia Open final, after losing to her in two fantastic games, Intanon went to the other side of the court and the two players had a wonderful moment. She sharedn a hug with the prodigy and in the end, touched her forehead as if blessing her. Intanon was a prodigy too. She knows what it takes to win big titles as a teenager. She became the world champion as a 18-year-old in 2013. And in that moment, it felt like a significant moment of game recognising game.
Of course, An is not a new name on the tour. In 2019, she won the French Open as a 17-year-old by defeating Saina Nehwal, Akane Yamaguchi and Carolina Marin on her way to the Super 750 title.
“A star is born,” said commentator Gill Clark when she clinched the title defeating Marin.
She has been steadily rising since but the Tokyo Olympics was a tough test for her as she lost against the eventual champion Chen Yufei. A player that An described as one who makes so few errors, a description that would be fitting for the Korean star. She always had airtight defence and would retrieve shuttles like few others can, but she has now added strength and flair to the grit.
Since Tokyo 2020, An has played 30 matches and has lost only four of those. And those defeats have come against Akane Yamaguchi (3) and Chen Yufei (1). In all the matches she lost, she did so in three games. In all the matches she has won, only two went to three games. She blows opponents away or makes sure she gives them one heck of a fight.
Of course some of the biggest names have been missing from the tour these past months, but the way she has played against the likes of Sindhu, Pornpawee Chochwong, Ratchanok Intanon, and Akane Yamaguchi even... there is no reason to think she can’t handle any of the returning names should she run into them at marquee events. Her well-rounded gameplay means there is no glaring weakness that could be exploited; she matches up well against a variety of players.
If she can handle the nerves of a major tournament and can stay clear of injuries, there is indeed a very good chance that An Seyoung could be the world champion in a couple of weeks’ time.
“I know, this is a very risky statement. But I would not be surprised if, when we reach Sunday, December 19, in Spain, that the player in the red t-shirt here is the world champion. It would not surprise me,” said Danish legend Morten Frost on Sunday during commentary, perhaps speaking what is on the mind of most badminton fans.
“It’s been a tiring three weeks for me. I’m super glad to come away with three titles and I’m very happy about it,” An said after her win against Sindhu. “I’m really excited about the World Championships and I’m hoping to play without any injuries.”
An Seyoung has said one of the non-badminton things she likes doing is to watch stars in the night sky. “I find peace of mind from watching them,” she had said.
Well, now she is the star and the rest of the badminton world is watching her in awe. She is in form, she is happy, she is turning heads, and more importantly, she is winning... winning in style. She knows she will be followed in earnest at the World Championships in Huelva starting on December 12. She understands that she is still young, that every tournament is a learning process and that she needs to stay fit, most importantly.
But at the moment... oh, to be Seyoung.