‘World No. 1’ Ahn reclaims her title, reaches first final since AG gold

South Korean women’s badminton standout Ahn Se-young is back in the final of an international tournament for the first time since winning gold at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games.

The world number one defeated China’s Zhang Yiman, ranked 17th in the world, 2-0 (21-17 21-11) in the women’s singles quarterfinals of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour Super 1000 Malaysia Open in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday.

Ahn was on top of her game from the first set, using her trademark precise strokes to take the lead and then calmly watching her opponent’s under-clear fall off the line at 9-3.

After her attack was ruled out, Ahn confidently filed a challenge and won the point. Ahn struggled to close the gap to 12-10, but back-to-back errors from Zhang Yiman saved the day.

Ahn Seyoung was up 19-15 late in the first set, and her strategy was to focus on Zhang Yiman’s right side. Zhang Yiman was unable to cope with Ahn’s attack. Ahn took the first set with a 21-point lead.

Ahn sealed the victory with an easy second set. Zhang Yiman was unable to fight back against Ahn’s performance from the middle of the second set. Ahn swept the second set and punched her ticket to the final.

This is the first time in three months that Ahn has reached the final of an international event after winning the women’s singles title at the Hangzhou Asian Games in October last year. Ahn won the women’s team event and women’s singles gold medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games.

Ahn’s gold medal in the women’s singles at the Hangzhou Asian Games came amidst an injury battle. She was leading 18-16 in the first set of a tightly contested match against China’s world No. 3 Chen Yuefei when she complained of knee pain.

Ahn took the first set and then lost the second set to Chen Yuefei due to knee pain. However, she recovered to take the third set 21-8 to claim the top spot on the podium. It was the first time in 29 years that a South Korean athlete had won gold in the women’s badminton singles at an Asian Games since Suh Bang-hyun at the 1994 Hiroshima Games.

But Ahn’s knee condition was serious. Shortly after returning home from the Hangzhou Asian Games, she underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan at the hospital and was diagnosed with a partially torn tendon near her right knee.

After being told that she would need a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of five weeks to rehabilitate, Ahn dedicated herself to her recovery, but failed to reach the finals of her next three events. Her peak performance did not come quickly enough.

Luckily, Ahn is slowly returning to form in time for the Paris Olympics, which begin in July. A podium finish at the Malaysia Open will give her even more confidence as she sets her sights on a medal in Paris. Ahn last won the women’s singles gold medal at the 2023 World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Ahn was disappointed to finish with a bronze medal at Tokyo 2021, her first Olympic Games appearance. She swept through the women’s singles group stage with two straight wins to reach the round of 16, where she upset then world No. 13 Boonan Mbanglungpan of Thailand.

However, in the quarterfinals, she was unable to break through the barrier of China’s Chen Yufei, the world number one at the time. She suffered an injury setback when she rolled her ankle late in the second set and lost the set 0-2, meaning her chances of winning an Olympic medal will have to wait until the next Games.

Korean badminton has won six gold, seven silver, and six bronze medals at the Summer Olympics. However, since Lee Yong-dae and Lee Hyo-jung won the mixed doubles gold medal at Beijing 2008, South Korea hasn’t had a winner at London 2012, Rio de Janeiro 2016, or Tokyo 2021.

Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked mixed doubles pair of Kim Won-ho (Samsung Life Insurance) and Jung Na-eun (Hwasun County Government), who also competed at the Malaysia Open, advanced to the final with a 2-0 (21-16 21-16) victory over Singapore.

Meanwhile, the world No. 2 women’s doubles pair of Lee So-hee (Incheon International Airport) and Baek Hana (MG New Village Bank) fell 0-2 (17-21 17-21) to China’s No. 7 pair of Zhang Xuan and Zheng Yu.

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