New kids on the block: Kunlavut, An Seyoung emerge champions at India Open

NewsDrum Desk
22 Jan 2023

New Delhi, Jan 22 (PTI) Two youngsters -- Thailand's Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Korea's An Seyoung -- put on a scintillating show to claim the men's and women's singles titles respectively after stunning two-time world champions Viktor Axelsen and Akane Yamaguchi in the finals of the Yonex-Sunrise India Open here.

Kunlavut, 21, notched up the biggest title of his career when he beat Olympic champion Axelsen of Denmark 22-20, 10-21, 21-12 in 64 minutes, while An saw off world No. 1 Yamaguchi 15-21, 21-16, 21-12 in the women's singles summit showdown to add to her reputation of being one of the most exciting young talents in the world.

"From my earlier losses against Viktor, I had learnt that if I could engage him in long rallies and take the match to the decider then I have a chance to win. I could manage to do that today and even after losing the second game, I believed that I can win," Kunlavut said.

The Dane was odds-on favourite to win the title as he led Kunlavut 6-0 in their career head-to-head record with victories at the World Championships final and Denmark Open last year.

But Kunlavut seemed all set to buck the trend as he didn't allow Axelsen to play his attacking game. He didn't give him the lofted clears and kept the shuttle flat and precise.

It helped him to lead 7-4 and 16-13 but Axelsen was always breathing down his neck and once his forehand went into the net, the Dane was 19-18 up.

But Kunlavut produced another sensational shot at the net to level par. Axelsen sent one away from the Thai to grab a game point but wasted it. He then lost a net duel and next sent one wide to hand over the bragging rights to the young Thai.

In the second game, Axelsen galloped to an 8-3 lead and took the match to the decider after Kunlavut succumbed in a pool of errors.

After the change of sides, Kunlavut once again engaged Axelsen in longer rallies and eked out a 7-5 lead after the Dane faltered on the front court again. Soon the Thai took a four-point lead at the break.

The Dane made it 12-10 but then committed a service error and it all went downhill after that as he committed a series of unforced errors to fall 10-18 behind.

Kunlavut then tapped one away at the net to grab eight match points and then fell on his knees in joy as Axelsen erred while returning a short serve.

An Seyoung didn't have a good start after coming into the final following four straight losses. From 6-6, Yamaguchi had stepped ahead to close out the opening game comfortably.

At interval of the second game, the Korean was once again lagging by two-point after fluffing the lines from being tied at 8-8. Pepped up by coach Sung Ji Hyun, An Seyoung started to up the pace and tried to play more angled returns.

Using cross-court drops and slices, she started controlling the rallies as Yamaguchi erred with the lines.

An Seyoung made her opponent run corner to corner using reverse slice and drops. The Japanese also missed the lines and fumbled at the nets to allow the Korean to take the match to the decider.

The third game was a physical battle as the duo engaged in some energy-sapping rallies. After a 51-shot rally, An Seyoung lay on the court after misjudging the shuttle.

Yamaguchi won two long rallies but An Seyoung produced some acute-angled shots to recover from 3-6 down to 7-7 before moving to 11-8.

Yamaguchi came close to 11-13 but couldn't breach the gap with the Korean grabbing eight match points and sealing it when the Japanese hit the net. PTI ATK AM ATK AM AM

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