TUC ASIA – Kreative Korea Trumped Japan and Toyed Malaysia

Double-finalist Korea stunned their opponents with their creative line-ups in both finals of the 2008 Thomas and Uber Cup Asian Qualifiers in Ho Chi Minh City. The Korean women defeated […]

ImageDouble-finalist Korea stunned their opponents with their creative line-ups in both finals of the 2008 Thomas and Uber Cup Asian Qualifiers in Ho Chi Minh City. The Korean women defeated Japan 3-1 in the Uber finals while the men bowed out 2-3 in the Thomas finals after toying with the Malaysian men for 3 hours.

By Jan Lin, reporting live from Ho Chi Minh City. Photos: badmintonphoto (live)

In the Uber Qualifier final between Korea and Japan, Japan’s head coach Park Joo Bong admitted that his Japanese Uber Cup squad (pictured left) was caught off-guard by Korea’s assembly of the 2 scratched pairs of women’s doubles yesterday afternoon.

The world number 4 Korean women’s doubles pair of Lee Hyo Jung/Lee Kyung Won was split up with Lee Hyo Jung teaming up with Kim Min Jung to play the first doubles while Lee Kyung Won paired with Ha Jung Eun in the second. Kim/Ha is the Korea’s number 2 women’s doubles pair, ranked 16th in the world.

“I did not expect the Koreans to split their doubles but anyway we were not able to field our first doubles Ogura and Shiota because they have been overworked at the group stages and we were worried about their next tournament which is the German Open next week.

“In fact, I was worried about the group stages as some of my players were injured and not in their best conditions. So we are very happy with the overall result and my target for the women’s team is top 4 in Jakarta”, concluded Park.

Backed by a faithful group of Japanese supporters, who were passionately waving the Japanese flag from the stands, Japan’s second women’s doubles pair of Satoko Suetsuna/Miyuki Maeda, ranked 11th in the world, overcame Lee/Kim in straight sets to clinch the only point for Japan.

ImageDespite their “scratched” status, Lee/Ha clinched the decider for Korea without breaking a sweat. In 2 convincing games of 21-17, 21-5, the Korean ladies silenced Japan’s third ranked women’s doubles pair of Matsuda Tonomi/Akao Aki, who are ranked 14th in the world, to complete Korea’s fine run at the 2008 Uber Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Malaysia Malu?

The Korean Thomas Cup squad (pictured right), on the other hand, may have played bridesmaid to Malaysia in the Qualifiers but if an under-strength Korean side could grab 2 points from Malaysia, there is reason to believe that a full-strength Korean squad is arguably a class above the Asian Qualifiers’ champion.

The Malaysian men’s team may have clinched top spot at the 2008 Thomas Cup Qualifiers but their title speaks little of their performance (or the lack thereof) and Korea’s runners-up status mismatches with the quality and depth of the Korean 2008 Thomas Cup squad.

When the line-up of both men teams were released in the afternoon, the organizers were worried that Korea’s under-strength albeit creative line-up would disappoint the spectators, as Korea fielded a side that was clearly going for a 0-3 defeat from their Southeast Asian opponents.

The Koreans lack of intent for clinching top spot in Vietnam became apparent when they rested their star player Lee Hyun-Ii, who would have been the biggest threat to Malaysia’s star player Lee Chong Wei at the qualifiers. Two other Korean stars, Park Sung Hwan and Lee Yong-dae were meant to be rested as well and only had their names listed for the 4th and 5th games for formality sake.

Park Sung Hwan and Lee Yong Dae were visibly amused by the fact that their services were required in the final and not in their usual events either. Both players have arrived at the stadium relatively unprepared to play and were both seen scrambling to put their socks and shoes on at the unexpected turn of events.

ImageWhen it became apparent that Lee had to play the deciding singles tie against Malaysia’s world number 24 Hafiz Hashim (pictured left), the young Korean men’s doubles specialist was grinning in bewilderment when warming up for his match. Earlier in the day, the crowd missed a chance of seeing another top doubles specialist, Sudket Prapakamol of Thailand, showcasing his ability in the singles game as his team was already defeated 3-1 and the third singles game was therefore voided.

With the All-England and Swiss Super Series about a week away, Korea wasn’t the only team that rested their Olympic-bound players. Hong Kong rested Wang Chen and Yip Puiyin in their 3/4th tie against Malaysia while Malaysia had rested Wong Mew Choo earlier in the day. While Thailand, who made up for the 2006 disappointment by qualifying for the Jakarta finals in May 2008, also rested Boonsak Ponsana and Poompat Sapkulchananart in their 3/4th tie against Japan.

Malaysia fielded a strong side for their final tie against Korea. While world number 2 Lee Chong Wei and number 16 Wong Choong Hann made quick work out of their lowly ranked opponents, Shon Seung Mo (ranked no. 62) and Lee Cheol Ho (ranked no. 64), the Malaysian men’s doubles were undone by the Koreans.

Malaysia’s number 1 pair Koo Kien Keat/Tan Boon Heong may have beaten the 2007 World Championship silver medalists Jung Jae Sung/Lee Yong Dae, but when Jung Jae-sung teamed up with his old partner Lee Jae Jin in yesterday final, the Malaysian world number 3 had no solutions going down 16-21, 21-17, 19-21 in 29 minutes.

Malaysia’s third ranked pair of Abdul Latif Mohd Zakry/Mohd Tazari Mohd Fairuzizuan, ranked 14th in the world, then fell to Korea’s scratched pair of Park Sung Hwan/Hwang Ji Man in straight sets 19-21, 18-21 putting Malaysia in a 2-2 deadlock against Korea.

“It is a mentality problem. When they saw the draw in the afternoon, they thought it would be easy games. But when they get on court and realized that it isn’t, they struggled to switch their mentality accordingly”, said a disappointed Rexy Mainaky, who is coach of both men’s doubles pairs.

He added, “We’ve guided them the best we can and there is not much coaches can do about this. Only they can control their hearts and minds, which is what my players have to learn in order to stop losing to lower ranked pairs.”

There was not much consolation for Malaysia even though their third ranked men’s singles Hafiz in the third singles did successfully nicked the decider, as it was Lee Yong Dae who entertained the crowd by his spirited display of stunning snapped-smashes in the first set before running out of steam in the second to go down 21-17, 21-10 to the Malaysian.

So perhaps, the crowd at the TUC Asian Qualifiers in Tan Son Naht stadium last night was the biggest winners after all as the chance to witness the talented and versatile Lee Yong Dae standing alone on his side of the court is considerably rare albeit highly entertaining.

2008 Asia Uber Cup Qualifiers Result:

1st Korea
2nd Japan
3rd Malaysia
4th Hong Kong China

2008 Asia Thomas Cup Qualifiers Result:

1st Malaysia
2nd Korea
3rd Japan
4th Thailand

About Jan Lin