India Open: New kids to challenge world order


Eager to learn from their mistakes of earlier losses, waiting to pounce on the world champions: India’s first sighting of future superstars of world badminton will happen on Sunday as two youngsters will be on show at the Super 750 finals.

An Se Young playing in her first India Open, and Kunlavut Vitidsarn making his first ever final here in a Tour event, are a pair of 20 year olds scheduled to challenge the reigning World Championns, Akane Yamaguchi and Viktor Axelsen.

Looking to trip up Guchi

An Se will look to break a losing run of four matches against Yamaguchi when they play the India Open Super 750 final on Sunday. “Just because I lost four times doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from Yamaguchi. I’ve been analysing my mistakes,” An Se says. “At first I used to be worried about losing, but after losing and losing I’ve learnt a lot.”

Chipping away at the dominance—though they are 10-5 head to head in the Japanese double world champ’s favour—An Se has been perhaps the only breakthrough star from the new generation, going toe to toe with every big name that’s part of the golden generation, the current Top Tenners.

The Korean, who emerged on the world scene while still in her teens, has remarkable skills. She’s consistent, boasts a wide repertoire of attacking and defensive strokes and can amp her speed like in the semis against He Bingjiao. Incredibly mature for her age, it’s her outstanding all-round talent and calmness that’s helped her match the best in the world, becoming one of them while contesting Tour finals, including Malaysia last Sunday.

An Se was the project the Koreans undertook, fortifying her with the most perfect defense, and then the most rounded attack – heeding no attention to results while she developed her game. Currently, former shuttler Sung Ji Hyun sits on her coaching sidelines. “She had been a great player, but I took time to adapt to her coaching. Now it’s working well,” An Se says.

Outside the court, the 20 year-old is a regular Korean youngster steeped in the pop culture of the day. She loves Korean-dramas, but gleans them based on the writer-director Kim Eun-sook, known for her clever romcoms and quick-witted, breezy banter, rather than actors. She digs the music of the original girl band star Tae-yeon, and if she must choose, picks BTS rapper Kim nam-joon ‘RM’. She’s bingeing on the revenge reincarnation chaebol drama Reborn Rich currently, she says.

Yamaguchi has been in a roll for two weeks now, and will start as the favourite going into the final as a two-time World Champion. However, if there was a challenger fresh and driven enough to end her reign, it’s An Se Young.

A quirk in progress

Viktor Axelsen made his second final of the year after winning last week’s Super 1000 at Malaysia, and had an opponent get injured and barely offer any resistance on two successive days. The Olympic and World champion looks refreshed to claim one more title. And he has a pretty strong motivation to make it count. “I’m away from my family. So it has to be worth it,” says the young father of two girls.

If he’s too impatient to head home, there’s no one better to trip him up than the new kid on the block – Kunlavut. He belongs to the 2018 Class of junior talents who have all made it to the Top 10 – which includes Lakshya Sen and Japanese Kodai Naraoka.

Kunlavut, though, was the first to break through making the World Championships final. “I have to learn, choose tournaments, and improve step by step,” he says.

Kunlavut is essentially a very steady player and doesn’t offer any easy points as Anthony Ginting would attest. A good stroke-player, he has the ability to move the shuttle around every corner of the court wherever he wants and relies on positional play. Perhaps pushed by the rise of Japanese Kodai Naraoka and his dizzy speed game, Kunlavut has taken off on a speed regimen of his own.

He’s increased his running to twice a week, besides the 6 hours daily training, he told BWF channel. Perhaps the only thing he’s looking to slow down is his chomping pace. “I eat fast. I’m trying to slow down,” he added to BWF. Kunlavut took his time though to chew up the challenge of Ginting, with the first set going 27-25, before he finished off the Indonesian 21-15 in the second. “Control was important on the shuttle,” he said, given the conditions, with little drift.

Axelsen meanwhile, wasn’t quite expecting to go deep into the tournament when he arrived, taking it a day at a time given how exhausted he was after taking the Malaysian title last Sunday. However, he showed no signs of any exertion against Jonatan Christie who lost 21-6, 21-12.

Should he drop his guard, Kunlavut will not miss the chance to pounce on the opportunity, and India might just see a new champ in the making.





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