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South Korean star dreams of becoming world number one

JAKARTA (AFP) – South Korea’s rising badminton star An Se-young flashes a smile when asked about her dream of becoming the women’s world number one, and the first woman from her country to achieve the feat in decades.

The world number two was dealt a blow at the Indonesia Open this weekend, suffering an injury in her quarter-final win before crashing out in the semi-final.

But the 21-year-old has been on a hot streak.

An reached all eight individual tournament finals this year before the Indonesia Open, winning five of them and leaving her achingly close to overtaking world number one Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.

“It is a dream that you’d dream if you were an athlete,” she told AFP before her defeat.

“I am just proud of myself for stepping closer to that dream.”

An Se-young. PHOTO: AFP

It remains within reach, despite her defeat in Jakarta to China’s Chen Yu Fei in the quarter-finals.

“Of course I’m sad, but I don’t dwell on it too much. Instead, it made me think, ‘Oh, I need to be better,'” she said of her Indonesia Open exit.

Born in 2002, An took up badminton in her first year of elementary school, following her parents who played the sport as a hobby.

She is not the only athlete in her family either – her father used to be a boxer for South Korea.

Often described as a “genius girl” by local media, An was only 15 when she joined the South Korean national team, winning all seven matches in the 2017 selection competition.

In 2019, she was named Most Promising Player of the Year by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

At home, An is often compared to South Korean athlete Bang Soo-hyun, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and was inducted into the World Badminton Hall of Fame in 2019.

Now the highest-ranked female single’s player in South Korea’s badminton national team, An says she feels a sense of “burden and happiness” but remains focussed on helping her country win more titles.

She hopes that nailing down the world number one spot will inspire other Koreans to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

“Even though I’m still young, if my hard work leads to the world number one ranking, I believe it would serve as a motivation for Korean players,” she said.

An will now take a break to recover after the Indonesia Open. She said her next tournament appearance will be at the Korea Open in July.