Midway through the third game of the Uber Cup final opening singles last Saturday, An Se Young began displaying signs of fatigue from her earlier round endeavours.
Clearly in extreme discomfort from leg cramps, the world No.4 kept picking herself up, refusing to contemplate throwing in the towel for she “hates losing so much”. Leading the decider 20-17, theory remained on her side, practice and reality didn’t.
Ultimately, she could not quite get over the line, allowing Chinese opponent Chen Yu Fei to save three match points and take the decider 22-20. Korea, not seen as favourites, were down 1-0.
With a strong line-up on the opposite side, fans on the stands and those watching around the world could be forgiven for entertaining apocalyptic thoughts so early on; it is not often a team grows to a position of strength after the fall of its main ace.
Those on the Korean bench however, experienced a different sensation – they found a reason for uplift.
“She left everything out there on the court,” acknowledged Lee So Hee after combining with Shin Seung Chan to put Korea on level terms with a first career victory over Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan.
“Seeing her made me feel I should try my best to the very end. Even though we didn’t win our first game, we still believed. An played so well despite the burden of being our first player. We could finish the game well because she stimulated us,” added the 27-year-old veteran of two Uber Cup campaigns.
Since the turn of the century, only Korea – in their first triumph 12 years ago – had denied China in an Uber Cup final, meaning when second doubles Kong Hee Yong and Kim Hye Jeong overpowered Huang Dong Ping/Li Wen Mei 22-20 21-17 to make the score 2-2, the team stood on the precipice of history.
Unheralded world No.46 Sim Yu Jin duly stepped forward and clinically finished the job against the newly-crowned Asian champion Wang Zhi Yi.
“I saw An trying her best so I was inspired to do so myself too,” Sim later said. “After An’s match, my teammates got more confident. As a result, everyone went all out and I felt empowered to triumph. I just wanted to win my match as fast as possible.”
Coach Sung Jihyun, herself an 18-year-old rookie when Korea succeeded in 2010, applauded her 20-year-old mentee’s attitude.
Sung said: “She played through pain because she really wanted to win a point for the team. She was not ready to give up. It almost paid off because she was really close to winning.”
Plaudit also came from the conqueror, who listed the win among her career’s top three.
“She was cramping but could still return every shot,” Chen said. “She’s a very tough competitor and a great opponent. Cramping makes it hard but she hung in there.”
An’s indomitable spirit continues to glow – just four days after her exertions against Chen, she was back for another marathon match in the GR TOYOTA GAZOO RACING Thailand Open 2022 opening round against Line Christophersen.
Despite her will, she fell just short, losing 16-21 21-11 18-21. The battle lasted 51 minutes.