Saturday, May 18, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
There are the established women’s singles stars at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019. And then there are the emerging ones.
For a career so nascent, An Se Young has already made quite a few heads turn. The 17-year-old, having won the New Zealand Open earlier this month, will be among a clutch of young prospects hoping to turn the tide for their respective teams.
An, who is likely to shoulder Korea’s responsibilities instead of the injured Sung Ji Hyun, showed no sign today that she would be intimidated by the task.
“It’s a great honour to be competing at the Sudirman Cup and I’m very excited,” said the teenager at the pre-event press conference. If An is indeed chosen ahead of compatriot Kim Ga Eun, she will have the difficult prospect of trying to get the better of world No.1 Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) and Cheung Ngan Yi or Yip Pui Yin (Hong Kong).
An does have Major Event experience though. At the Uber Cup last year, she was unbeaten in four matches to guide Korea to the quarterfinals. Nor was she overwhelmed by the stage. After beating Denmark’s Line Christophersen in the fifth rubber of their group tie, An did a delightful jig on court to satisfy a bet with a teammate.
Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt might not be as raw as An at the elite level, but she’s considered one of Denmark’s rising prospects. The women’s singles spot for Denmark is between her and Line Kjaersfeldt, with Blichfeldt likely to get the nod at the group stage because she has victories over both her potential adversaries – Gregoria Mariska Tunjung (Indonesia) and Chloe Birch (England).
Blichfeldt beat Tunjung in straight games at their last meeting in Singapore last month. The Dane exuded confidence in her ability to score a vital point for her team in a group that rich with possibilities, with all three teams – Indonesia, Denmark and England – wary of early upsets.
“This is my second Sudirman Cup. We have been training for the last few weeks, the preparation has been good,” said Blichfeldt. “I will do anything to win a point for Denmark. We have a tough group, but we have a good chance to win the group if we do our best.”
Tunjung – widely acknowledged as one of the most skilful players on the circuit – hasn’t had a great season, with five first round losses. To seek inspiration, she needs to look no further than PBSI’s head of high performance, Susi Susanti, who guided Indonesia to their famous win in 1989.
Two other youngsters who have come of age are Chen Yufei and Goh Jin Wei. The last few months have been dreamlike for 21-year-old Chen with wins at the Fuzhou China Open, the All England, and the Swiss Open. If she can hold the fort for China in Nanning, it will mark a new high in her career.
Goh, who has beaten players like Beiwen Zhang and Akane Yamaguchi this year, could be the surprise package who might swing things Malaysia’s way in tough Group 1D.
As for the more established names – Akane Yamaguchi, Nozomi Okuhara, Saina Nehwal, Pusarla V Sindhu, Ratchanok Intanon and Tai Tzu Ying – the one big motivating factor would be that their team have never won the Sudirman Cup. An inspiring performance that takes their team to the title would be a glittering achievement in their stellar careers.