As a 21-year-old races ahead, what were once intimidating landmarks are now specks in her rearview mirror.
With her ninth title this year from 12 finals and 13 events, An Se Young has stepped into a realm all her own in women’s singles – and this is still September. With several events left in the season, what she can achieve in the coming months might well boggle the mind.
Most disconcerting for her opponents is how quickly, and how completely, she is evolving. It is getting harder and harder for her opponents.
While steadiness continues to be her forte, has arsenal is constantly strengthened with new additions: a half-smash that she delivers with precision; unerring drop shots; stretched aerial interceptions from improbable positions; an unflappable netgame, deceptive flicks and pushes – that now give a completeness to her game.
World No.11 Wang Zhi Yi marvelled : “Compared to last year, An Se Young’s play is more threatening and she is faster. An Se Young has added a lot more variety to her shots, she is more of an all-rounder now, for instance at the net, she can pause and trick you, and at the back she has a good mix of drop shots and smashes. So all this makes her more threatening.”
Her landmark season so far is illustrative of her evolution. Her first six finals this year saw four three-game battles and three losses. That’s changed after the Asian Championships final in April — An Se Young has run through her last six finals without dropping a game. And this, in an era with some of the most talented and accomplished women’s singles players ever.
At the World Championships, even though she was top seed, she was taking on a player who has had few equals when it comes to major finals – Carolina Marin, winner of three World Championships and the Olympics. Marin had scythed through the draw in her own intimidating fashion, and, as she claimed during the week, she was in Copenhagen to “complete the circle”, having won her first world title there.
Yet, An Se Young, playing her own first World Championships final, owned the court the moment she stepped on it. Neither the occasion nor the opponent could get to her; instead, it was Marin who crashed to an astonishingly one-sided 21-12 21-10 defeat.
A fortnight later, it was a different continent, different conditions, different opponent, but the result was the same – another straight-games win. An Se Young had her second BWF World Tour Super 1000 title of the season, beating Akane Yamaguchi 21-10 21-19. That made her the first women’s singles player to win nine titles in a season; Kento Momota‘s singles record of 11 isn’t too far away.
Her opponents will be concerned that she believes she can still improve.
“I’m very happy but I have a long way to go,” said An, after winning the China Open. “I’m motivated by every event. If I have enough energy I’ll continue to play more events this year, whether it’s Super 300, 500, 750 or 1000. I’ve improved this year, and I’m able to compete strongly in every match.”
She has put herself in a strong position to become the most successful player in a season. For An, however, the record isn’t a motivation.
“This is the first time I’m hearing about this record, I find it interesting,” said the No.1. “My motivation is to win the titles that I have yet to win; my motivation doesn’t come from the possibility of setting records.”