World Champion Akane Yamaguchi proves size doesn’t matter in badminton

Those who watched Akane Yamaguchi perform in the women’s singles final of the last BWF World Tour event, the Japan Open, were witness to something special. The diminutive world champion was at the peak of her powers in the first game and the first half of the second.

Their game was so flawless and precise that it is hard to imagine any other player in today’s badminton world, male or female, playing with such brilliance. Though she lost her golden touch a little towards the end of the two-game match, she did enough to secure the title.

The victory on home soil came just a week after she became world champion for the second year in a row. She is undoubtedly the best player in women’s singles badminton at the moment. This is a wonderful success story that deserves extensive study and discussion.

At just 5ft 1in tall, Yamaguchi might look like someone who would struggle to compete against a good player. Their height is equal to that of the net at its ends and only an inch more in the middle. So how does she manage not only to compete, but to reach the dizzying heights of success that she has?

Akane Yamaguchi’s incredible tenacity

Akane Yamaguchi's stamina is unmatched in the badminton world (Image: BWF fansite)
Akane Yamaguchi’s stamina is unmatched in the badminton world (Image: BWF fansite)

Akane Yamaguchi isn’t the only short-statured Japanese star in women’s singles. Nozomi Okuhara has also achieved considerable success in recent years. In fact, she became world champion in 2017 after a titanic final match against PV Sindhu at the World Championship.

What makes these two Japanese players so successful despite being vertically challenged is their sheer stamina and tenacity. They retrieve the shuttle to the point where their opponents are going insane over their inability to complete the rally.

This quality was shown in the 2017 World Cup final between Okuhara and Sindhu. The Japanese shuttle kept thwarting Sindhu’s attempts to win the rallies by retrieving the shuttle. It was an epic match, lasting 1 hour and 50 minutes and featuring many unusually long rallies, the longest of which was 73 shots.

A few months later, at the finals of the BWF Super Series Finals, a very similar contest was observed. This also involved Sindhu, but this time she was up against Yamaguchi.

Both Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara are known for their resilience
Both Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara are known for their resilience

Once again, the Japanese player’s indomitable resilience won the day. Despite the huge difference in height, with Sindhu towering over her opponent by 5’10, Yamaguchi took the title.

In this match, too, the most dazzling thing was that Yamaguchi, like her compatriot a few months ago, never gave up and kept bringing the shuttle back, which repeatedly brought the Indian player to the brink of exhaustion.

The sight of the diminutive player getting the shuttle back from near-impossible situations was almost inspirational. Even the most ardent Indian fan would have become an admirer by the end of the game.

The greatest asset of the two-time world champion in this phase of her career was her tireless retrieval quality. It distinguished her as one of the best players in the world. However, she still had a long way to go to become the best.

Akane Yamaguchi’s rise to the top

Akane Yamaguchi isn't just a shuttle retriever anymore
Akane Yamaguchi isn’t just a shuttle retriever anymore

Since then, Akane Yamaguchi has not been content with just being a retriever. She also improved her skills. This gradual improvement in their game is now in full bloom. She’s no longer just a relentless shuttle chaser, but a versatile player with great skills and some power too.

However, one of the most impressive aspects of her game is her footwork, which forms the basis of her amazing game of retrieve. Watching her move across the court, the 25-year-old almost seems to be floating on the surface. It’s this nimble footwork that allows her to get to the shuttle from the most difficult of positions.

This constant retrieval not only prevents their opponents from gaining points. It puts pressure on them to aim for the lines, increasing the number of mistakes.

Now Akane Yamaguchi has combined her tireless spirit with some classic tricks. She uses the drop shot very effectively, almost as well as the most skilled player on the circuit – Tai Tzu Ying. Like Tai, she has also become adept at deception, leading opponents in the wrong direction before pushing the shuttle in a completely different direction.

Her net play isn’t bad either, forcing her opponents to take risks at the net just as much as they do on the lines.

Then there are the smashes, both on crosscourt and down the line, which she delivers from the forehand corner. Despite their size, they have a sting and usually prove too good for most players.

All of these qualities have resulted in Yamaguchi now standing at the top of the women’s singles division. Winning back-to-back World Cups has already earned her a spot at a very elite club. Whether she can remain the best player in the world in the coming months remains to be seen.

It would be interesting to see how she fares against PV Sindhu now. The India shuttle could pose the biggest strategic challenge for the Japanese star due to the difference in altitude. However, the type of form the world champion has shown recently suggests she might find a way to defeat her.

Still, it would be an interesting contest to witness because of the change in tactics Yamaguchi would need to bring to their game.

But all in all, Akane Yamaguchi is number one in the world of badminton today. Your success is a great advertisement for the game. It shows that this sport allows players of all shapes and sizes to thrive.

The way Akane Yamaguchi has earned her place at the top is a testament to her tenacity, brilliance, and constant quest for improvement. She deserves every award that is bestowed upon her.

Edited by Akshay Saraswat World Champion Akane Yamaguchi proves size doesn’t matter in badminton

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