Tai Tzu Ying: The Girl Next Door By Raphael Sachetat

22-year-old Tai Tzu Ying is the new World No.1. Her friendly character, her ever joyful spirit and her incredible talent have made her a sporting icon in her home country, Chinese Taipei, as well as with badminton fans around the world.
 
She could be your next door neighbour: a joyful teenage-like young woman, always smiling, somehow shy, very polite and friendly with everyone. But Tai Tzu Ying is no ordinary girl. She is the new World No.1 after claiming Gold for the second time at the season’s grand finale, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Superseries Finals in Dubai, where she beat China’s rising stars He Bingjiao and Sun Yu back to back, as well as Korea’s top player Sung Ji Hyun to pocket the US$80,000 prize money, having previously won that same event in 2014 when she just 20 years of age.
 
Tzu Ying was born in Kaohsiung and from an early age she and her elder sister, also a badminton player, would go to the local badminton hall with their parents.
 
“My parents used to play every morning at the gym. My sister and I started playing with them when we were in kindergarten, for fun only, but when I entered third grade in primary school I started to play more competitively: I had no interest in books” she recalls.
 
Her father, a firefighter, is also the director of the Kaohsiung badminton committee and a huge fan of the sport – he and his wife would often sit on the coaches’ chairs behind her in her formative years.
 
Tai’s natural talent was obvious from the moment that she first started competing in Taiwan’s first division when she was only 13 years of age. At 16, she became the youngest ever National Champion, having already started to compete outside her own borders, finishing runner up in her first international tournament in Vietnam.
 
Taiwan had been waiting for someone to replace its former No.1 Cheng Shao-Chieh, who had been World Junior Champion before scooping a Bronze Medal at the 2005 World Championships but who never progressed to the top 5.
 
As a teenager Tai Tzu deflected pressure through training hard with her usual humility. Her junior years were spent on the senior BWF World Tour. “I didn’t have much time to think about my opponents then, I just played to gain more experience. I just focused on my daily practice and time flew like an arrow”. Slowly, she progressed through the world rankings with wins over the top players and in June 2010 reached her first Superseries final at the Singapore Open.
 
“It is my best memory on court. I lost in the final, but it was my 16th birthday that day and everyone celebrated it while I was on court”.
 
Two years later, she was beaten in the quarter-finals at the London Olympics by the eventual winner Li Xuerui, but clinched her first Superseries title just one month later in Japan to become the then world’s youngest ever Superseries winner. In spite of losing in the quarter-finals in Rio, 2016 was her best year so far with two Superseries titles, Indonesia and Hong Kong, and the Superseries Finals in Dubai, leading to the climb all the way to the top of the rankings to be the first player from Chinese Taipei to be ranked World No.1.
 
Tai Tzu Ying has one secret to performing so well: pressure does not seem to affect her in spite of her young age despite revealing not having any specific mental preparation: she prepares the same way for every tournament with a relaxed mindset at all times.
 
“I think the fact that I am quite relaxed on court could be the reason why I perform and why I am able to play a good game. I just want to enjoy the sport, without giving myself too much pressure” she says.
 
Her talent also lies in her style: attacking, one of her smashes was recorded at 360 km/h at last year’s Yonex All England – but also deceptive. “She is very aggressive and has so many deception shots. Her game is of high quality and she is very humble” says one of her main opponents on the tour, the reigning Olympic Champion Carolina Marin.
 
Very often, Tai tries new shots on court, sometimes even during crucial points, and even when she makes mistakes, she keeps smiling. However, when they work, her deception can be lethal.
 
Her game style is described by many commentators as one of the most pleasant to watch in Women’s Singles and her goal this year is just to maintain her form, improve her skills and overall performance, with Tokyo 2020 in the back of her mind. As well as working hard on court, she also likes to work out in the gym – she often shows how she improves on her “six packs” on Facebook, getting hundreds of thousands of “likes” for the pictures she posts.
 
The Taiwanese is a fan of Italy, enjoys good food, hardly ever goes to sleep after 11pm in order that she can wake up early and loves to spend time with her family and her friends who are mostly from outside the badminton world. She describes herself as “humble, fearless and not paying attention to what other people think”.
 
When asked what is the part of her personality she likes the least, she laughs and answers: “I have a strong personality!”. Opponents beware!

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