Leading 17-9 in her pre-quarterfinals decider against the American Beiwen Zhang, An Se Young dived full length to her left to retrieve a shuttle at the short service line. She managed to reach it and send it high over the net before it landed long.

The South Korean just stood up and walked back as if nothing happened, to resume the proceedings. Mind you, An is playing at the India Open with a heavily strapped right knee. In fact, the 21-year-old has been playing so since the 19th Asian Games in October last year.

Up against China’s Chen Yu Fei in the women’s singles final at Hangzhou, An sat down on the side of the court while leading 18-17 in the first game. The youngster, however, continued to play after getting some medical attention on the court and ended up winning the contest in three games.

“I heard a snap in my knee and it was very painful,” An would go on to say in the press conference after her win.

Further assessments revealed a ruptured tendon in the right knee. She decided not to opt for a surgery since it was a partial tear and a complete post-surgery recovery and rehabilitation might take close to a year. The 21-year-old shuttler, instead, was back in action at the Japan Masters Super 500 a month later in November. She made a stunning run into the semi-finals, where she went down to Yu Fei after an intense 75-minute long battle.

An continued to struggle in the next couple of tournaments – crashing out in the second round at China Masters Super 750 before bowing out in the semi-finals of the season ending World Tour Finals against Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying.

The reigning world champion, however, is back with a bang in the new season. She made a huge statement at the Malaysia Open Super 1000 last week, winning the title by completing a revenge victory over Tai.

An has once again started off well at the India Open notching hard-fought wins in her two matches. She first took down former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon 16-21, 21-13, 21-16 before beating Zhang 21-19, 14-21, 21-14. The recent results notwithstanding, the world No 1 revealed that she is only half-fit.

“I am not 100% fit, but 60-70% recovered,” said An in a mixed-zone interaction post her first round win against Intanon in Delhi.

“For now, my leg is not fully recovered but I am practising more and more and playing well, believing that it will heal in the coming days,” the Korean shuttler added.

Despite the heavily strapped knee restricting her usual smooth movements on the court, An managed to reach tough angles as and when she was put under pressure by Zhang in their Round of 16 clash on Thursday. She was ready to play the waiting game and fight it out.

“My body condition is not the best. But I was ready to fight and run a lot across the court,” she said post her second-round win.

“I did not think about what the scores are and just did my best,” she added.

The youngster trailed 1-6 in the third game against the American and 4-8 later, but soon went on a point accumulating spree – winning seven in a row, to essentially kill off the match against the world No 9.

During this phase, An fell back to her trusted defence. Even as Zhang kept pushing her to all four corners, the focus for the Korean remained on just returning the shuttle and tiring her opponent out with long rallies. The move worked wonders as the 33-year-old Zhang kept hitting her shots wide and into the net on multiple occasions, perhaps a little over eager to get the better of the world champion.

The fact that An has Sung Ji Hyun – a world championships bronze medallist from 2015 and one of the finest exponents of the classical defensive play style during her hey days, as one of her courtside coaches also helped her in the fight back.

“She [Sung] has helped me a lot in keeping my confidence level high since we started working together,” said An.

“She keeps on motivating and inspiring me according to the situations and whatever advice she has to offer during matches and training sessions have helped me a great deal,” she added.

Competing in such high intensity badminton matches can be very stressful, especially when playing with an injury. More so with an event as big as the 2024 Paris Olympics just around the corner. An, though, has a completely different mind-set.

“Injuries can happen anytime,” she exclaimed.

“I do not really think about it [injuries]. The only focus remains on playing well regardless of the injury and win,” she added.

The shuttler though remains hopeful of attaining peak fitness by the time Paris comes around and hold both the World Champion and Olympic Champion title at the same time.

“My current recovery rate is pretty good. I think by the time Paris comes, I will be back to full fitness,” An said.