Chen Yufei Comes of Age

With her YONEX All England victory on Sunday, Chen Yufei reversed China’s recent slide in women’s singles. Not only did she win China’s first All England women’s singles crown since 2014, she gave the country its first major title in the category in over two years.

Chen has quickly shot up through the ranks of elite women’s singles badminton.

What will give the Chinese cause for celebration is that Chen is still 21 years old, and still on her way up. She now stands as the spearhead of her country’s revival in women’s singles, a category it dominated for years on end before ceding control to rivals from Japan, India, Spain, Chinese Taipei and Thailand.

Importantly for Chen, she achieved her career-best triumph against an opponent whom she had never beaten in 11 previous attempts. That she did it convincingly, in straight games, was perhaps as much of a surprise to her as for most fans who turned up expecting Tai to complete her hat-trick of All England victories.

“Before the final I was aware that many fans had said I had never beaten Tai. I kept adjusting my game during the match and those external voices did not make an impact on me,” said Chen. “I think the key factor of the win was my mentality. In previous matches with her, I was never confident which led to some hesitation in playing my shots. Today when I established a big lead and she got closer and closer, I told myself I had to be calm and trust myself.

“The win means a lot to me. The All England is a prestigious tournament with great history; we take this tournament very seriously. Winning this match was a self-affirmation of my abilities.”

Not one of the frontline contenders, Chen took her time to get going. She got past Aya Ohori in a tight third game, but then walloped Sung Ji Hyun and Nozomi Okuhara – the latter in just 42 minutes.

That match in fact showed Chen’s formidable all-court game, with her powerful attack blowing apart the defensively solid Okuhara.

Against Tai in the final, she established leads in both games, and although her opponent did reduce the margin, Chen never looked like she would relinquish control.

Ever since her World Junior Championships victory in 2016, Chen Yufei has been considered one of China’s brightest bets. Even in her teens, she was a frequent presence in the later rounds of the Superseries; quite remarkably, she won a bronze at the World Championships in 2017.

Her record in 2018 foretold a player who was on the cusp of making it big – at the semifinals of the All England last year, she went down in three games to Tai Tzu Ying, and again to the same player in the finals of the Badminton Asia Championships and the Indonesia Open.

The winning moment at the All England.

Then, in her biggest final – the Victor China Open – she was outclassed by Carolina Marin. The Chinese did not have to wait long to take revenge, for she once again ran into Marin at home – in the semifinals of the Fuzhou China Open. This time Chen outplayed the world champion, and for good measure, blitzed 2017 world champion Okuhara in the final in just 43 minutes for her biggest title. Chen Yufei had arrived.

Having already beaten or troubled the best in her category, Chen has now emerged as the player to watch this season. Chen will shoulder the responsibilities of leading her nation’s challenge at the Sudirman Cup and the World Championships, where she will attempt to become the first Chinese since Wang Yihan in 2011 to take the title.

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