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An and Kunlavut earn historic first titles at badminton worlds

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — An Se Young and Kunlavut Vitidsarn became the first women's and men's singles winners from South Korea and Thailand at the badminton world championships on Sunday.

An won the title her form foretold and prevented Carolina Marin of Spain from a record-extending fourth world crown by taking their final 21-12, 21-10 in 42 minutes.

Kunlavut won the men's final by wearing down Kodai Naraoka of Japan 19-21, 21-18, 21-7 a year after he lost in the 2022 final.

An rose to No. 1 at the start of the month, the first South Korean woman to make the summit since 1996, six years before she was born.

The worlds title validated the ranking in a year in which she has utterly dominated. This was her eighth title from 11 finals in 12 tournaments this year.

An announced she was coming when she won the 2021 World Tour Finals then reached the 2022 All England final and worlds semifinals.

This year, her game has gone to another level.

Nozomi Okahura, the 2015 world champion, was the only player to take a game off An at the worlds in the quarterfinals. An took apart Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei in the semis.

No. 6-ranked Marin lost all three previous matchups with An this year, but her confidence was up after she beat former No. 1 Tai Tzu Ying in the quarterfinals and two-time defending world champion Akane Yamaguchi in the semis. Marin has been on the comeback trail following two knee surgeries which sidelined her for a year.

From 4-4 in the final, An won six straight points to take charge. In the second game, Marin fought back to tie it at 10 but An reeled off the last 11 points. Her defense and pressure forced Marin into repeated errors.

The first game of the men's final took longer than the entire women's final.

No. 4-ranked Naraoka edged the 45-minute game after No. 3 Kunlavut needed to strap his right knee twice and led 19-18. In the second game of more long rallies, Naraoka was three points from victory at 18-18 but netted twice to concede.

Coming so close and missing out broke Naraoka, who was warned by the umpire in the deciding game to play his best. Kunlavut reached 10-1 and won nine more straight points to reach 19-5. The end came after 109 minutes.

Kunlavut’s fitness was impressive: His last four matches each went past an hour. In the semifinals he defeated HS Prannoy, who knocked out No. 1 and defending champion Viktor Axelsen in the quarterfinals in front of the Dane's home crowd.

Kunlavut signaled his promise by becoming the first man to win three world junior titles, including against Naraoka in 2018. He broke the men's top five in May and the top three in June.

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