PV Sindhu counted her own heap of errors and wondered aloud with mild annoyance at her 19-year-old opponent's precision lifts "landing on the line all the time". It was minutes after the two-time Olympic medalist had been roundly dispatched by the South Korean teen phenom, An Seyoung, in the quarterfinals of the Denmark Open.
An, who made the Korean national team when she was a 15-year-old, is the breakout star of women's singles.
Before her 18th birthday she'd already scored upset wins over Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying, Akane Yamaguchi and Sindhu. From wading through the triple digits in rankings four years ago, she's No 8 in the world today, one spot below Sindhu. On Friday, she bounced off the floor pulling off outlandish retrieves and had the Indian on the ropes through the larger part of the affair. An feasted on the points Sindhu gave away in net errors and opened up a seven-point lead at the first-game interval.
Coach Park Tae Sang, who has seen An closely in her early years when he was part of his home national team set up, cajoled a dazed Sindhu to rinse and reset. Sindhu probed An's slightly vulnerable forehand-side defence on a couple of occasions but the South Korean was neutralizing attacks and calling the shots. Sindhu attempted to draw her into rallies in the second game, which had An flip a switch, flinging down-the-line torpedoes that would obediently land inches inside the line.
Sindhu, at the other end, managed a couple of successful down-the-line and follow up cross-court shot routines but those too soon wore thin. In 36 minutes, An was fist-pumping, pointing both thumbs to the back of her shirt while Sindhu rummaged through her bag, collecting herself from the scalding.
For Sindhu, it's still early days in a fresh cycle of tournaments. This one in Odense is her first competition in two months after the Olympic Games. She was made to toil in her second round, just about scraping through 21-16, 12-21, 21-15 against Thailand's Busanan Ongbamrungphan.
It's become something of a recurring montage, even if inadvertent, for Sindhu - go through the year without occasion, keep her powder dry and hunger on the surface and make a swoop for the big titles. In the run-up to becoming world champion in 2019 she turned out in ten tournaments, making the semifinals only in one.
It was also incidentally the year An announced herself on the circuit with five Tour titles. In her debut Olympics this year, the teen from Gwangju went as far as the quarterfinals, falling to eventual gold medalist Chen Yufei. An doesn't exactly fit the quiet, undemonstrative archetype of women players from her part of the world -- she would do a Fortnite Floss Dance during the 2018 Uber Cup, in which Korea finished third.
"[An]'s an all-rounder, she dives a lot...you think the shuttle is down but she's picked it," Sindhu would tell BWF in exasperation after the match. She looks at her unflattering score-line much like she does her momentum from the recent Olympic bronze, "I have to just let this go. It's over for now." For An, it only gets better from here this weekend.