NEW ZEALAND OPEN SF – 17-year-old An in first major final

Korean teenager An Se Young booked a spot in the first major final of her career with a hard-fought win over Japan’s Aya Ohori, then her compatriots Kim/Kong beat the […]

Korean teenager An Se Young booked a spot in the first major final of her career with a hard-fought win over Japan’s Aya Ohori, then her compatriots Kim/Kong beat the world #2 in a 102-minute nail-biter.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Luke Lee / Badmintonphoto (live)

17-year-old An Se Young (pictured top) has been getting a lot of attention in the Korean press ever since she was undefeated at national team trials in December 2017.  Then aged 15 and still finishing up middle school, An had yet to play in a single senior international tournament and in fact had only played one year’s worth of major events.

Fast forward less than a year and a half and An has been on the Uber Cup team and played in the Asian Games and been in two International Challenge finals but she has outdone herself this week at the .  This is only her fourth tournament at this level, including the Asian Games but not for lack of trying.  The Badminton Korea Association entered her in an additional 5 events and one Super 500 in the past year but she was unable to make it off the reserve list.

Still, An has had her experience playing past and present top ten players, including compatriot Sung Ji Hyun and All England champion Chen Yufei, who beat An in their opener at the Asian Games.  This week, the Korean teen already accomplished her biggest upset to date, beating world #11 Zhang Beiwen in the quarter-finals.

In Saturday’s semis, An actually came in with a winning record against Aya Ohori (pictured above).  The two had met last spring at the Korea-Japan friendlies a few weeks before Japan’s win at the Uber Cup.

An Se Young came out firing in all three games.  After bagging the opener, she was riding high in the second, with a late 18-11 lead before nerves set in and Ohori calmly crept up and finally snatched the game with a 7-point run to the finish.

In the decider, An built up a post-interval lead for the third straight time but this time, she finished strong, taking a 5-point run to seal the victory.  That win put her in the first major final of her career and will ironically make her one of the early front-runners in the points race to the Tokyo Olympics.

Interestingly, she will not get the opportunity to claim a first victory over a current top ten player.  Instead, if she wants the title, she will need to get the better of former Olympic champion Li Xuerui (pictured).  Li beat top-seeded Akane Yamaguchi in three games to reach her third Super 300 final since mounting her comeback last year from a long injury layoff.

An’s compatriots Kong Hee Yong and Kim So Yeong (pictured) will have to contest not with a former but a current Olympic champion pair.  The Korean women’s doubles combination edged out their 3rd top 8 opponent from Japan on Saturday, saving no fewer than 3 match points in a perilously close second game.

The Koreans were actually just shy of pulling off a reversal in the opener, when they came back from 11-19 down to draw within a point of the former world #1s but they didn’t let the disappointment get to them as they fought hard through the next two.  Sayaka Hirota and Yuki Fukushima played incredible defense against the strong Korean attack but after 3 games marked by long, gruelling rallies, the match ended with a quick 3-shot exchange that started the Korean celebration.

World #4 Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured) await them in the final after Chinese youngsters Dong/Feng in straight games.  Like Fukushima/Hirota, the Olympic gold medallists have won both encounters with Kim and Kong together but have been beaten by each Korean lady in different partnerships.  In particular, Matsutomo/Takahashi have lost twice in the last year to Kong and the young Kim Hye Jeong.

Another former Olympic gold medallist exited Saturday in the men’s singles.  Lin Dan suffered his third loss to Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong.  Ng goes on to meet Asian Game gold medallist Jonatan Christie in the final.

The only former World Champion to contest a final on Sunday will be Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (pictured bottom).  The Indonesians were too good for Olympic silver medallists Goh/Tan and will take on German Open winners Endo/Watanabe in the final.

Goh/Tan’s compatriots and fellow Rio silver medallists Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying are in the mixed final against India Open runners-up Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti, who are looking for their first title together.

Finals line-up
XD:  Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS) [2] vs. Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti (INA) [5]
WD:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [2] vs. Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR)
MS:  Jonatan Christie (INA) [3] vs. Ng Ka Long (HKG) [6]
WS:  Li Xuerui (CHN) [6] vs. An Se Young (KOR)
MD:  Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [2] vs. Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe (JPN) [3]

Click here for complete semi-final results

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net