Feature | Badminton

How it all began for South Korea's Olympic badminton medal hope An Se-young

The 18-year-old reflects on her meteoric rise in the women' singles world rankings after joining the national team when she was just 15.

By ZK Goh ·

An Se-young has opened up about her start in elite badminton and her quick rise up the ranks.

The 18-year-old is the Republic of Korea's top women's singles prospect for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, as the country seeks for its first medal in that event since Bang Soo-hyun won gold at Atlanta 1996.

With three women currently in the world top 20, hopes are high that Korea can end its barren run.

For her part, since making the national set-up in 2017 aged 15, An has won a world junior team bronze medal, an Uber Cup bronze medal, and claimed the scalps of most of the world's top players.

An was also named Most Promising Player of 2019 by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

She achieved all of that before turning 18 in February this year.

"Playing with the national team was a great experience as I was the youngest and I gained a lot of experience competing against internationally-renowned players," An explained in a BWF Badminton Unlimited feature.

Qualifying through trials

It has been a meteoric rise for the Gwangju native, one of the most dangerous talents currently on the circuit.

When An was first selected, she became the first middle school student to join the national squad.

"We have a selection process to get into the national team," she said. "I participated in the selection based on recommendation and eventually qualified as I won many matches in the try-outs.

"I played for about a year in the junior team before joining the (senior) national team."

However, it hasn't always been easy.

"I feel like they think of me as a baby," she admitted. "Not that they treat me like one, but perhaps because of the generation gap, I feel that there is a barrier to communication."

Her incredible form has not only marked her out as one to watch, but also earned her a spot on Forbes Asia's 30 under 30 list for entertainment and sports.

Beating Olympic and world champions

An was ranked just 78th in the world when she reached her first BWF World Tour final in May 2019.

Despite a huge gulf in experience, she defeated London 2012 singles champion Li Xuerui in straight games to take the New Zealand Open title.

An then overcame world number one Tai Tzu-ying in a rubber at the Sudirman Cup mixed team world championship before facing – and beating – Rio 2016 finalists P.V. Sindhu and Carolina Marín in the space of two weeks later that year.

"I didn't expect to play so well in the national team, but I told myself I would be in a better position if I played without any pressure, and perhaps that helped," An said.