At a career-high World ranking of No.3, Sung Ji Hyun is sitting pretty among the elite of world badminton. A string of encouraging performances over the last few months has meant that the Korean is looking ahead to a successful 2017.
The turnaround for Sung happened after the Rio Olympics. Arriving in Rio as a medal hopeful, the Korean succumbed to pressure and the brilliance of eventual gold medallist Carolina Marin; subsequently, with the pressure off her shoulders, Sung says she was able to perform close to her potential in the events that followed.
“What I remember most about 2016 is the experience at the Olympic Games,” said Sung, in an interview with Badminton Unlimited. “Even now, I can recall my match against Carolina Marin in the quarterfinal. I tried my best to perform well by training as hard as I could. However I wasn’t able to display my true abilities, to reflect the amount of effort I had put in. I was expected to win a medal at the Olympics so I was under a lot of pressure and it became a heavy burden. After the Olympics, I was able to play much better in tournaments and it showed in my results. This is largely because I wasn’t carrying any weight of expectation.”
A rare holiday with her family after the Olympics helped her recuperate and lifted her spirits.
“But even with the disappointment, I also believe 2016 was a year in which I learned a lot and gained plenty of experience. I enjoyed the time off given to me after the Olympics and I went on a family trip for the first time. My younger brother had a break from his national service so it was great he was able to join the family trip as well.”
Sung’s season perked up in the post-Rio phase – she was runner-up at the Victor Korea Open; semi-finalist in France and China, winner at the Korea Masters, and runner-up at the Dubai World Superseries Finals. Now, with her former coach Kim Ji Hyun re-joining the national squad, Sung is confident that her game will get more complete.
“I received training from coach Kim Ji Hyun four years ago,” said Sung. “Now she’s back in the national team. With the relationship we’ve had before, I think we know each other pretty well. Coach Kim is familiar with the weaknesses in my game and she has identified some of the areas I can develop further. I believe it will only be a matter of time before we are able to fully adjust ourselves and adapt to each other’s style.”
At 25, Sung is the senior stateswoman of the Korean team; she believes that the emergence of young players is good for her own game.
“I keep myself motivated as there are junior players who are getting better every day. I feel it’s important that I use this as an incentive to spur me on to train harder and keep improving. I don’t want to be upstaged by these younger players.”
The Korean has been among the world’s elite for a while now, but still feels the absence of a major title. Having faltered in her quest for a medal at Rio, Sung is motivated by the thought of medalling at the Asian Games and the Tokyo Olympics.
“I guess my biggest ambition is to maintain my world ranking in the top 5,” said Sung. “This will feed my motivation a lot. As far as my career goes, I would like to win medals at the big international multi-sporting events like the Asian Games or the Olympics. This is important as I haven’t managed to win one at either the Asian Games or the Olympics.”