Korea were distinct underdogs going into the Uber Cup, for, beyond An Se Young in first singles and the doubles pairs, they appeared to have glaring weaknesses in the second and third singles.
Yet, it was Kim Ga Eun and Sim Yu Jin whose key victories helped Korea clinch the title for only the second time – vindication of coach Sung Ji Hyun’s faith in their abilities. On the eve of the tournament, Sung had praised the skills of her lesser-known singles players, and said it would all come down to self-belief.
“The second and third singles are very good. If they believe in themselves, they can win,” Sung said. “Kim Ga Eun could be the key. This is a high-pressure situation for her, she has to relax and calm down and focus on her play. I want her to believe in herself. Once she realises her abilities, she can do much better. I know that. She can get nervous but I try to calm her down.”
Shortly after the sensational title win a week later, Sung was still trying to come to terms with what she had witnessed. Korea had pulled off a fairytale win against powerhouses China, with the unheralded Sim Yu Jin showing remarkable composure to beat her highly-rated opponent Wang Zhi Yi in the final match.
‘No Tomorrow, Only Today’
“Sim Yu Jin showed great improvement, she wasn’t nervous, she played many smash winners, so I’m really proud of her,” said Sung. “The court was windy from one side, and I was a bit worried with the side she was playing from at the end, but she was wonderful while attacking and she defended well too.
“I told her, just follow the shuttle. Don’t make mistakes. (There’s) No tomorrow, only today. We only live today. She got a lot of support from the team, she just needed a bit of confidence.
“I’m really happy because in 2010 I was a player, and I’ve been coach now for just over a month. I’m really proud of them.”
World No.19 Kim didn’t have the best of starts, and had to overcome the disappointment of a shock loss to Canada’s Zhang Wen Yu in the group stage to then beat Line Christophersen in the quarterfinals, and – more impressively – Nozomi Okuhara in the semifinals, which took Korea into the title round.
“After the loss (to Zhang Wen Yu) I lost confidence and felt a lot of pressure,” said Kim. “But my coach (Sung Ji Hyun) encouraged me, she asked me not to feel any pressure, and insisted that I have the ability to do much better.”
Kim repaid the faith, standing strong against the tenacious former world champion, and using her height and steep attack to keep the Japanese constantly scampering during the 21-12 11-21 21-16 victory.
“An Se Young had put us ahead in the first match, so I felt all right, and team support also helped me a lot,” said Kim.
New Star on Horizon?
The next day it was the lesser-known Sim Yu Jin who achieved one of the most famous wins in Uber Cup history, with her stunning takedown of Asian champion Wang Zhi Yi.
The newly-turned 23-year-old barely showed any sign of nerves, and instead punched holes all around Wang’s court with a range of deceptive and sliced attacking shots to ease to victory 21-8 in the third game.
“I’m happy that I could step up in time and help the team win,” said Sim. “I did not believe in myself, but my teammates were supporting me, so I felt much stronger. I made some mistakes, but I just tried to stay in the game and cut down on my errors.”
Having seen Korea through to the Uber Cup crown, Kim and Sim will return to Open tournament action at the DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters 2022 beginning tomorrow. Badminton fans will keenly watch their progress.