SEO-L STIRRING DAY FOR KOREA

H.K.H. Kronprinsen - Kronprins Frederik - Stine Heilmann / Kongehuset

The age of specialisation, it appeared, had made it increasingly implausible for a men’s double world titlist to emerge at the same edition. After all, that feat has been achieved by only three players in the 46 years of the World Championships; the last was in 1999.

On Sunday, Seo Seung Jae did something that no male shuttler in 24 years had – win the men’s and mixed doubles titles with two impeccable performances on finals day at the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023. And with An Se Young annexing the women’s singles crown, Korea returned their best-ever performance at the World Championships with three titles.

Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yu Jung

If An Se Young’s was an expected outcome — she had been in ten previous finals this season — Seo Seung Jae and both his doubles combinations were one of several contenders.

The overwhelming favourites in the mixed were Zheng Si Wei/Huang Ya Qiong, looking for their fourth world title. Seo and Chae Yu Jung had lost all nine of their previous matches to the defending champions, although the last, at the Sudirman Cup, had seen them miss match point.

This time the Koreans overcame a patchy second game to finally make it past the mighty top seeds, 21-17 10-21 21-18.

A few hours later Seo was back, with Kang Min Hyuk, defying Kim Astrup, Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, and 10,000 spectators willing the Danish pair on.

Kang Min Hyuk and Seo Seung Jae celebrate Korea’s golden moment

It was a close match until the end, with the Danes prevailing in the short rallies and the Koreans when the shuttle was up in the air. Another tense end-game, another Korean victory. Seo Seung Jae had become the first male player in over two decades to become a double world champion at the same edition of the World Championships.

“Seung Jae had played a long match in the mixed doubles, so I was worried. He was physically okay, but he said if we started worrying about his condition, we could not focus on our own match. So we thought it’s better to focus on our own play, and it worked out,” said Kang.

“Of course this is due to all the support we have received and the hard work we’ve put in,” said Seo. “This is a great result for Korea. Korea haven’t had a gold medal in the last nine years, so this is a glorious moment. This isn’t just our achievement, it’s an achievement for the whole Korean team.”

VIEW FROM THE TOP

H.K.H. Kronprinsen - Kronprins Frederik - Stine Heilmann / Kongehuset

Kunlavut Vitidsarn, the 22-year-old world No.3 whose nickname is View, had glimpsed the summit last year, but this time he completed the ascent. Thailand have their first men’s singles world champion.

It was every bit a hard trudge to the top. Kodai Naraoka, his opponent and contemporary from his junior days, put him through an excruciating test in a match of marathon rallies, quite unlike any World Championships men’s singles final seen in recent times. It lasted 109 minutes – one of the longest men’s singles matches ever. There were extended stoppages to wipe Vitidsarn’s blood off the mat after he’d thrown himself around in keeping the shuttle alive.

Vitidsarn outlasted an exhausted Naraoka

With Naraoka showing breathtaking defensive and retrieving abilities, Vitidsarn was required to play the waiting game, and he did. The result was interminable backline-to-backline exchanges, a slow chess game of sorts, with Vitidsarn attempting to inject pace at frequent intervals to get the openings.

It was a couple of points at the end of the second game that eventually put the final beyond the Japanese’s grasp. Vitidsarn, once again monk-like in demeanour, answered Naraoka in kind, not hesitating to engage in those marathon rallies, and once he’d taken it to a decider, the Japanese could challenge no further. Vitidsarn had beaten him at his own game in a masterly display of courage and patience.

After the match was won, Viditsarn would remember to dedicate the gold medal to his childhood coach who’d passed away, to whom he’d promised that he’d one day be world champion.

Kunlavut Vitidsarn in action

“I’m very happy, this has been a dream for me since I was a child,” said Vitidsarn. “When I was young I’d promised my coach that I would get the gold medal. He passed away, and I dedicate this gold medal to him.

“I had three targets when I was young – Olympic Games, World Championships and All England. Now I have achieved one of those, so two are left.

“I needed to be prepared for a long match with Kodai. We know each other’s game because we have played since our junior days. You have to be very patient with him, and it was very tiring, so I didn’t have any energy left to celebrate.”

‘GEN NEXT’ FACE-OFF, AND A BATTLE FOR THE AGES

H.K.H. Kronprinsen - Kronprins Frederik - Stine Heilmann / Kongehuset

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.

Kunlavut Vitidsarn

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.

Marin is one step closer to her goal

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.”

Highlights:

Apriyani Rahayu and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti

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).

#COPENHAGEN2023: DAY 5 IN QUOTES

H.K.H. Kronprinsen - Kronprins Frederik - Stine Heilmann / Kongehuset

Who said what at the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023 on quarterfinals day:

 

“I didn’t perform the way I wanted to, but Prannoy played really well. But I’m not satisfied with my performance. That’s how it is, that’s the game. My job now is to learn from this defeat. It’s part of being an athlete. It’s not the last time I’m going to lose.”

-Viktor Axelsen

“When I got in I realised how packed the stadium was. But it was fun out there. We had close matches in recent times, and to win is always tough. You might come close, but a win is a win. I couldn’t digest the Japan Open loss but God had something better for me, probably to give me a World Championships medal.”

-HS Prannoy

 “The crowd and the nation deserves these moments that will last a long time in people’s memories.”

Anders Skaarup Rasmussen, after Astrup/Rasmussen outplayed Chirag Shetty/Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

“We played well but the execution was wrong. Although we played badly we were still close to taking the match. I feel we weren’t comfortable through the match, but we lost 21-18 21-19 – that’s the champion mentality. Even when we were having an off day, we played well.”

-Satwiksairaj Rankireddy

“It’s our first meeting, so it was difficult to understand her playing style. But my coach told me what to do and I followed those instructions. She is fast and has good control, so she made me think on every rally.
“I had goosebumps when I got into the arena. My coach was also frustrated with my slow start, and I do know what I shouldn’t do, but I made mistakes in the opening game. Maybe I should start better in the next match.”

-An Se Young on Nozomi Okuhara

“I did give everything. An Se Young is a very steady, very physical player. Physically I’m not 100 percent yet. I want to be what I used to be like, in terms of footwork, but I could play aggressively from time to time, and I’m gaining confidence match by match, so I’m getting there.”

-Nozomi Okuhara

“I was tense from the start, but Jia Yi Fan was like my angel, she covered up for me.”

-Chen Qing Chen on partner Jia Yi Fan

#COPENHAGEN2013: DAY 4 IN QUOTES

H.K.H. Kronprinsen - Kronprins Frederik - Stine Heilmann / Kongehuset

Who said what at the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023 on Thursday:

“I’m very happy. I knew his attack is hard so I cannot let him attack. Today I controlled the net and he was uncomfortable. It’s my first time in the World Championships quarterfinals and I want to do well.”

Wang Tzu Wei, after an upset win over All England champion Li Shi Feng

 “We are almost similar on court. We have a great hunger for winning, and show a lot of expressions on court. I’m calmer than her. In the second game, when the points were close, she said we have to dare to lose, only then can we break through.”

Chen Tang Jie on partner Toh Ee Wei

Beiwen Zhang

“My speed compared with last year is good, and I’m happy with that. I had hurt my left toe during my match with Kirsty and that was affecting me. I did find a weakness against An Se Young, but I cannot tell what it is! She is very stable, and you cannot be very aggressive because if you hit (into open court) she will dive and retrieve it and put the shuttle beyond your reach.”

Beiwen Zhang, reflecting on a well-fought opening game with An Se Young

“There was a lot of pressure on me. I was rushing a lot. It was important to play a patient game but at the same time be clinical. But towards the end I took a lot of risks and they didn’t go my way and I was shaky.”

Lakshya Sen ponders his loss to Kunlavut Vitidsarn

“The conditions were difficult. For me, it’s about learning and going step by step. If I do a mistake, just try again. The World Championships has been my dream since I was young, and I hope I can be champion.”

Kunlavut Vitidsarn

“We just didn’t find our game, and we couldn’t adjust to their style. It didn’t work out. We’d prepared well, we didn’t play in Australia, so we’re not happy to have lost like this. The first half of the year was quite busy, but the second half was similar to everyone else, so I don’t think we were overworked.”

Baek Ha Na, after she and Lee So Hee crashed out

“I’m finally here and feeling confident. I’m happy to play old rivals. I will try not to get any injury. I was away from competitons for a while, but the confidence is coming back.”

Nozomi Okuhara, after beating ‘old rival’ Ratchanok Intanon