A great seeking to reclaim her throne, versus a young challenger trying to establish her own reign – what could be bigger than this?
With Carolina Marin and An Se Young making the women’s singles final at the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2023, there couldn’t have been a contest of starker contrasts – attack versus defence, experience versus youth, left versus right.
Yet, while An Se Young was favourite given her astonishing season so far – she’d made 10 finals of 11 events, winning seven – it was Carolina Marin who looked set for a sporting fairytale.
After all, Copenhagen was where she won her first major title, the World Championships in 2014. Two more world titles and an Olympic gold since then had elevated her into near-mythical status. “I want to complete the circle,” Marin would say, after every win on the way to the final.
No other player, perhaps, had returned to elite level after two major knee surgeries. And yet, here she was, challenging for a record-extending fourth title. Marin was radiating unshakeable belief even at the start of the event when she declared that she was going for gold.
Despite all that An Se Young has done lately, the fact that Marin had never lost a final of this magnitude would appear to weigh against the young Korean. After all, in May, she’d crumbled under pressure in the Sudirman Cup final against Chen Yu Fei.
Yet, the Korean was in her element throughout, in the right place at the right time, countering whatever Marin threw her way. There was just one phase when Marin posed a threat to her, when she knocked off a big deficit in the second game to level at 10-all, but from there An’s defence just added to her despair. Marin made several soft errors, a measure of how frustrating An’s game style is to break down, even for the very best.
“Carolina is fast and powerful, so I had to keep the rallies going without making mistakes,” said An.
“I was super nervous until I got on court. I was telling all my teammates how nervous I was. But once I stepped on court, I was comfortable and confident. I told myself not to worry about the result, but to enjoy being on court and to enjoy the game.”
The historic implication of her victory was not lost on her.
“It’s so amazing. I won this for Korea for the first time, so I’m proud of this,” said the champion.
“I’m young, but this win is the result of all my work over many years. My next target is the Asian Games and Olympic gold medals.
“My family was here to support me, so I couldn’t lose the game for them. While training I was visualising all this, and because I dreamed it, it came true. If we don’t dream it, it won’t come true.”
Has a new reign begun?
Given her age – she’s just 21 – and her stellar, consistent record against all opponents – it would certainly seem so. Besides, she wants to get better.
“I understand I still have some weaknesses, so I’m going to work on them,” she said.
How her opponents step up their game against her is likely to define women’s singles over the next few years.