They were in the BWF World Junior Championships final five years ago. On Sunday Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Kodai Naraoka will contest the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023 final; a fresh champion will emerge. Whether the anointment will lead to the establishment of a new reign remains to be seen.
And then there’s the women’s singles final, featuring a comeback queen staking her claim to the throne against a crown princess.
Both men’s singles semifinals – Vitidsarn against HS Prannoy and Naraoka against Anders Antonsen — broadly followed the same pattern. The younger players, both capable of long spells of steady play interspersed with explosive bursts, absorbed everything their opponents threw their way, and then expertly counter-punched. Vitidsarn had the demeanour of a monk, appearing unconcerned all through the early passage of play when Prannoy held the upper hand.
Prannoy, who had had two difficult matches before the semifinals, didn’t have the legs to see him through another long-drawn battle, and his challenge midway through the second game.
Antonsen had much going for him; Naraoka however proved a stubborn opponent when the chips were down, showing sublime reflexes on his defence to extend the rallies, and with the opening game going 50 minutes, the fight was taken out of the Dane.
If the men’s singles final will feature contemporaries, the women’s singles will be a generational battle, one for the ages. Carolina Marin, three-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist, faces a player nine years younger, someone who has nearly swept all before her this season. An Se Young is, astonishingly, in her 11th final from 12 tournaments.
Before the World Championships began, Marin declared she was eyeing gold. It was a bold statement, but this was Marin, someone who has the deeds to match her words. Not even Akane Yamaguchi, two-time world champion, could stand in her way.
Yamaguchi did everything but win the opening game. Played at a crackling high pace, exploring all angles and spaces, the world No.2 was 18-14 up but Marin wouldn’t yield. The iron will didn’t bend, and once the game was taken, all belief drained from Yamaguchi. Marin bustled through, one step closer to the prize she’d set her eyes on.
Her intent was declared in no uncertain terms: “I came here with one goal. From the beginning (of the tournament), I wanted to play on Sunday, and I’m in a great way with my team. I’m looking forward to the final. I’m so ready for this battle.
“It’s not enough to play a final, I want to fight for the gold medal. I came here for one goal and we’re on the way. I showed a great performance till the end. Mostly it’s the mental game. When I won the first game, I wanted to show Yamaguchi that if she really wanted to beat me, she has to work even harder than me, she has to fight even harder than me.”
Seo Seung Jae will attempt to become the first male player since countryman Kim Dong Moon to win a double title at the World Championships. It has been two decades since Kim achieved the feat.
Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti are one win away from becoming the first Indonesian women’s doubles champions. Only two other Indonesian women’s doubles pairs have made it this far – Verawaty Fadjirin/Imelda Wiguno (1980) and Finarsih/Lili Tampi (1995).