Then & Now: Akane Yamaguchi
We take a look at the meteoric rise of the silver medallist from the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014 after she completed an amazing 2017 season by winning the badminton BWF Super Series Final.
As a 17-year-old, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi arrived at the YOG Nanjing 2014 as the No.1 seed in the women’s singles, having already reached the final of the BWF World Junior Championships three years in a row, winning silver in 2012 and gold in both 2013 and 2014.
A year before Nanjing 2014, Yamaguchi had also made waves on the senior circuit by becoming the youngest-ever player to win a BWF Super Series tournament, beating compatriot Shizuka Uchida in the final of the 2013 Japan Super Series at the age of just 16 years and three months.
In Nanjing, Yamaguchi proved exactly why she was the top seed with a perfect record of three wins out of three in the group stage, comfortably beating Chlorie Cadeau (SEY) and Thilini Hendahewa (SRI) before seeing off the challenge of ninth-seed Mia Blichfeldt (DEN).
She dropped her first set of the YOG in her quarter-final win over Ruselli Hartawan, beating the Indonesian 12th seed 2-1 (21-6, 18-21, 21-11), before facing Lee Chia-hsin (TPE) in the last four.
Another 2-1 victory set up a blockbuster final against second-seed He Bingjiao, of China. The duo had already faced each other in the final of the BWF World Junior Championships earlier in 2014, with Yamaguchi coming from a set down to triumph 2-1. It was a different story in Nanjing, however, with He feeding off the support of the vociferous Chinese crowd to claim the YOG gold medal, with Yamaguchi settling for silver.
Since her YOG medal-winning exploits, Yamaguchi has quickly become one of the leading lights in women’s badminton.
Just months after Nanjing 2014, she made it to her second BWF Super Series final – losing to India’s Saina Nehwal at the China Open – and has continued to impress on the senior circuit, with 2016 proving to be a breakout year for the young star.
After losing in the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 to compatriot Nozomi Okuhara, Yamaguchi won back-to-back Super Series titles with victories at the Korea Open and Denmark Open, with the latter including wins over both Okuhara and Carolina Marín, the Olympic gold medallist and double world champion who is also a fellow YOG graduate.
Her excellent form has continued in 2017, with Yamaguchi winning the China Open for the fourth Super Series title of her career, as well as reaching the finals of the Super Series events in Australia, Denmark and France.
She ended the year on the highest note possible, taking home the Super Series Finals title in Dubai.