Akane Yamaguchi – Japan’s Badminton Prodigy

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In any sport, starting young can put anyone ahead — but if you join the national team before you reach the fourth grade, you wouldn’t just be ahead. You’d be a badminton prodigy en route to earn a place amongst the sport’s greats. Is this possible? One player will answer with a resounding “yes” — and this badminton player is none other than Japan’s badminton sensation Akane Yamaguchi!

Akane Yamaguchi is one of the youngest rising talents in women’s singles badminton. She won the Asian Junior Championships and the World Junior Championships when she was only 13 and earned gold in mixed doubles. Yamaguchi was the youngest member to enter the Japanese junior national team as she joined the ranks at the age of eight. At age 16, Yamaguchi also put the women’s singles division on notice by winning the 2013 Japan Open. By doing so, she became the youngest player in history to win a top-tier badminton open tournament. Famous for her agility, speed, and patient playing style, Yamaguchi won ten Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour titles, five Superseries titles, and two International Grand Prix titles. Yamaguchi was also an Asian Badminton Championship silver medalist and a two-time BWF World Champion. After her title victory at the 2021 BWF World Championships, she rose to the top of the women’s singles division and held on to the top spot for 17 weeks. Besides winning numerous high-level competitions at a young age, Yamaguchi earned fame for helping Japan end its 37-year Uber Cup trophy drought.

For many badminton players, greatness takes time. One thing is for sure — Akane Yamaguchi may be the exception to the rule. Join me as I shine the spotlight on this Japanese badminton prodigy: Akane Yamaguchi!

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Early Life

Akane Yamaguchi was born on June 6, 1997, in Katsuyama, Fukui, Japan. She’s the youngest of three children.

In an interview with BWF TV, Yamaguchi recollected her early experiences with badminton. According to her, her two older brothers introduced her to the sport. As time passed, the three siblings grew competitive, with Yamaguchi constantly losing games.

Adamant to beat her older brothers, she improved her game and developed her athletic abilities at a young age. By the time she was seven, she had already won a few local competitions in Japan.

When she turned eight, she caught the attention of the Japanese Junior National Badminton Team. Impressed by her talent, the coaches selected her.

Yamaguchi spent the next few years sharpening her skills with the national team. When she turned 13, she made her junior debut at the Japanese National Junior Championship. At the National Junior Championships, she breezed through the tournament, winning her first junior title.

Akane Yamaguchi’s Junior Career

With her victory at the National Junior Championships, she competed in the 2012 Osaka International Challenge, where she played in the girl’s singles and doubles events.

While she failed to advance past the round of 16 in the doubles event, she performed impressively in the singles event. She dominated her compatriot and teammate, Nozomi Kametani, in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, Yamaguchi lost in the semifinals to Ayumi Mine.

Three months later, Yamaguchi competed at the Badminton Asia Youth Under-19 Mixed Team Championships. She competed in the girl’s singles and mixed doubles events, performing better in the former.

In the girl’s singles event, Yamaguchi advanced to the semifinals to face Nozomi Okuhara. Unfortunately, she lost and had to settle for bronze.

In 2013, Akane Yamaguchi kicked off the year with an impressive runner-up finish at the Osaka International Challenge. Three days after the tournament, she received another silver medal from the 2013 New Zealand Badminton Open.

Yamaguchi’s greatest achievement came five months after the New Zealand Open. In August 2013, she entered the Yonex Japan Open. There, she faced the top players from Japan and beyond.

Yamaguchi advanced to the finals easily. Awaiting her was her teammate and compatriot Shizuka Uchida. Yamaguchi won the match in straight sets, becoming the youngest player to win a BWF Superseries title.

Yamaguchi capped off her 2013 run with a bang at the BWF World Junior Championships. Advancing to the finals, she defeated Aya Ohori in a match that lasted 33 minutes, winning her second title as a junior player.

In 2014, Yamaguchi set out to defend her singles title at the 2014 BWF World Junior Championships. Similar to her last outing at the tournament, she dominated the girl’s singles competition to reach the finals. There, she faced China’s He Bing Jiao.

He Bing Jiao decisively won the first game, but Yamaguchi rallied from behind to snatch the second game 21-18 and the third 21-13. With this victory, Yamaguchi defended her title.

The two players faced off again in the finals at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. This time, He Bing Jiao got the better of Yamaguchi, so Yamaguchi had to settle for the runner-up position.

With five titles and seven runner-up finishes in her junior years alone, Akane Yamaguchi grew into a national sensation, becoming one of the BWF’s most promising young talents in 2014.

Early Senior Career

Akane Yamaguchi debuted as a senior player in 2015. While her senior debut year didn’t get off the best of starts, she won her first BWF Grand Prix title at the Bitburger Open. At the 2015 Bitburger Open, Yamaguchi defeated Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan in a close but spectacular three-game match.

In 2016, she debuted at the Rio Olympics. Unfortunately, despite putting on impressive performances, she lost in the quarterfinals to her compatriot Nozomi Okuhara.

The loss did little to sidetrack Yamaguchi as she redeemed herself a month after the Olympics. Her chance at redemption came at the 2016 Korea Open. Dominantly, she breezed through the women’s singles event to face South Korea’s Sung Ji-Hyun in the finals. The match was a barn burner that could have gone either way. In the end, Yamaguchi emerged victorious to bag her second Superseries title.

She followed her impressive performance at the Korea Open with another impressive display of skill at the 2016 Denmark Open. At the Denmark Open, Yamaguchi dominated the women’s singles event, advancing to the finals.

Awaiting her in the finals was Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying. Like the Korea Open, the match went to a third game that Yamaguchi won. Winning the match, she earned another Superseries title victory!

2017 was an equally successful year in Yamaguchi’s early career. In March 2017, she won her second Grand Prix title at the German Open after beating Spain’s Carolina Marin in a walkover. She earned several more impressive finishes that year, bagging silver at the Denmark Open and French Open.

After the French Open, Yamaguchi competed at the China Open, where she won her fourth Superseries title. She followed this title victory up with another impressive win at the 2017 World Superseries Finals after beating India’s P.V. Sindhu in a close three-game match.

By the start of 2018, Akane Yamaguchi had amassed ten titles and eight silver medals in international competitions. Her medal hauls and records in top-tier tournaments enabled her to ascend the World Rankings and claim the top spot. In April 2018, she became the world’s top female singles badminton player — a spot she held onto for 17 weeks!

Akane Yamaguchi at the 2018 Uber Cup

Numerous title victories color Akane Yamaguchi’s early career, but of all her early accomplishments, few can eclipse her performances at the 2018 Uber Cup.

At the 2018 Uber Cup Finals, Yamaguchi competed in the women’s singles event. After advancing past the first and second round-robin stages, she defeated Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying in the quarterfinals. Yamaguchi progressed to the semis to dominate South Korea’s Sung Ji-Hyun in straight sets.

Awaiting Yamaguchi in the finals was Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon. Yamaguchi emerged victorious, easily defeating her Thai opponent in straight sets.

Yamaguchi’s victory in the finals enabled Japan to clutch the crucial third point against Thailand. With Yamaguchi’s win, Japan finally won its sixth Uber Cup title.

The Uber Cup title was notable since it had been 37 years since Japan had won at the prestigious women’s team tournament. Akane Yamaguchi was pivotal to the nation’s victory.

More Success in the World Tour

After the 2018 Uber Cup, Akane Yamaguchi continued her winning streak in the World Tour circuit. She resumed her impressive World Series run at the 2019 German Open.

At the 2019 German Open, Yamaguchi defended her women’s singles title. Advancing to the finals, she emerged victorious in a fierce three-game match that lasted more than an hour.

Yamaguchi followed up her German Open victory with wins at the 2019 Indonesia Open and Japan Open. In 2020, she competed at the Thailand Masters where she faced South Korea’s An Se-Young in the finals. Yamaguchi defeated An Se-Young in straight sets, winning her sixth BWF World Tour title.

In 2021, Yamaguchi faced An Se-Young again in the finals of the Denmark Open. At the 2021 Denmark Open, the match between Yamaguchi and Se-Young went to a third game. However, An Se-Young had to leave the game early due to injury, giving Yamaguchi her seventh World Tour title.

Three days after the Denmark Open, Yamaguchi competed at the 2021 French Open. In the finals, she faced her compatriot Sayaka Takahashi. Yamaguchi defeated Takahashi in straight sets to win another World Tour title.

In 2022, Yamaguchi competed in the women’s singles event of the All England. At the 2022 All England, Yamaguchi faced An Se-Young in the finals, winning straight sets. The victory gave Yamaguchi her first All England title and ninth World Tour title.

Yamaguchi followed up her All England victory with another first-place finish at the 2022 Japan Open, winning her tenth World Tour title.

Akane Yamaguchi: Two-time World Champion

Akane Yamaguchi was also a two-time BWF World Champion, winning her first World Championship in 2021. At the 2021 BWF World Championships, she was one of the top badminton players to watch. Yamaguchi dominated the women’s singles event to advance to the finals where Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-Ying was awaiting her.

The two shuttlers battled for 39 minutes. In the end, Yamaguchi emerged victorious, winning her first BWF World Championship title.

Going into 2022, Yamaguchi set out to defend her World Championship title. At the 2022 BWF World Championship, she defeated all her opponents to reach the finals. China’s Chen Yu-Fei, another young and up-and-coming shuttler, was waiting for her.

The two fought tooth and nail for victory, forcing the match into a third game. In the third game, Yamaguchi pulled out all the stops to beat her opponent 21 to 14. With the victory came a successful title defense and Yamaguchi’s second reign as World Champion!

The Future Looks Bright for Akane Yamaguchi

Akane Yamaguchi’s accomplishments have made her one of the top talents to watch in badminton. As a two-time World Champion, ten-time World Tour titleholder, and multiple-time Grand Prix titleholder, Yamaguchi has a bright future ahead of her — and she’s just getting warmed up!

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