Badminton birdies smash the competition

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Ryan Lam, Staff Writer

She tightens her braid before she serves. The crowd cheers her name as she coordinates a play with her teammate, swinging her badminton racket for the finishing smash, winning the second set of her mixed doubles tournament. 

Freshman Ariel Zhao placed first in the 2023 Mixed Doubles (XD) Little Saigon Tet Open at Garden Grove, winning the final set 26-24. As of November 2022, Zhao is ranked 17th for mixed doubles in the country and has won various doubles tournaments, including a recent event at the Harbour Pointe Badminton Club in Seattle, Wash. 

“[After] placing first in the [Little Saigon Tet Open], I felt relieved that we were able to dominate the competition and persevere against other badminton players that I have played against in other events,” Zhao said. “The final set was a tight match. Thankfully, we won the tournament cup, and it was a great experience for my teammate and [me] to compete together.” 

Zhao is also the only freshman badminton player on the girls varsity badminton team. She wishes to pursue her badminton career alongside the school team, learn to develop meaningful friendships and continue to take her badminton skills to the next level. 

“I want to be able to advance my current abilities in badminton to the level of the professionals as I want to feel more confident when competing in tournaments or competitions,” Zhao said. “Being on [the girls varsity] team will hopefully allow me to break away from my nerves and help me develop a more positive and structured mindset.”   

Zhao started practicing badminton at the age of 9 at a local badminton club in Pomona, where she learned the fundamentals from her father, Kevin Zhao. 

“My father has been my most passionate supporter ever since I began training in badminton and has constantly motivated me to strive in competitions and tournaments,” Zhao said. “Not only does my father practice badminton alongside me, but he helps me find teammates to compete with for doubles tournaments when I do not have a partner.” 

After Zhao turned 11, her longtime coach Tony Gunawan brought her to her first competitive tournament in 2020. From that moment on, Zhao has consistently trained six days every week, improving upon her mistakes and boosting her morale and confidence. In time, Zhao plans on applying to the University of California Los Angeles as a part-time badminton coach. 

“Ever since I began competing in tournaments, I have always felt a feeling of anxiety. Fortunately, I have lost that substantial amount of pressure and feel more unrestrained when following my passion,” Zhao said. “Badminton made me the individual I am today, as I practically grew up with the sport like it was my childhood. Without badminton, I would not maintain my consistent work ethic and ambitious drive to be the very best.”