KOREA GP 2010 Finals – Four to the Favourites

China’s Liu Xin may have been the only upset perpetrator on finals day at the Korea Grand Prix event in Gimcheon this weekend but Jung Jae Sung / Lee Yong […]

China’s Liu Xin may have been the only upset perpetrator on finals day at the Korea event in Gimcheon this weekend but Jung Jae Sung / Lee Yong Dae were the first of two favourites who had to go right down to the wire to seal their titles.

Story and photos: Don Hearn, live in Gimcheon.

The Chinese participation at the 2010 Korea Grand Prix was enough to ensure that Korea would not sweep the finals spots nor even the titles as they had in their previous two late autumn International Challenges.  But the fact that only two nations were still in action on Sunday and that all five titles’ destinations were known in advance belied the great badminton that was to come.

The men’s doubles saw Lee Yong Dae and Jung Jae Sung take on compatriots Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong.  But today’s contest was very different from when the two pairs met in last year’s International Challenge final in Hwasun.  For one thing, Lee Yong Dae was not playing in his home town today.  Instead, Ko, who finished runner-up to Lee in two finals last year, is now based in Gimcheon as his professional home.  For another, between Ko/Yoo’s loss last year and today there was a certain tournament in Switzerland where  the newer pair had managed to eke out a 21-17, 20-22, 23-25 victory over their more famous compatriots.

The first two games were like mirror images, with the eventual winners getting a 17-12 lead and then withstanding the late assault by their opponents.  There were plenty of fast rallies full of very powerful smashes and shouts but things really heated up in the third game.  Jung and Lee managed to take the lead at the interval but could never really pull away.  Many new spectators trickled in as the match went on, perhaps having been tricked by the last minute change in the schedule to an early, 12 noon start.

Those spectators who made it in for the last half game certainly got more of a treat than in most matches.  Shortly after the break, Jung Jae Sung left Lee all alone on the court while he executed a racquet change, then Lee Yong Dae, after holding down the fort for those few seconds, broke one of his own strings but had to keep smashing and finally got the shuttle to the floor.  But if that wowed the crowd, it was nothing compared to what was in store.

With the tension high as the game headed in to extra points at 20-all, Ko Sung Hyun dove for a drop and then had to hit a preposterous six shots in a row while sprawled on his backside as Lee Yong Dae pounded the shuttle back down at him.  Ko’s returns not only went back over, though, they went with remarkable precision and he got the pair out of trouble, allowing them to take back the attack and earn another match point.

It did not end there, either.  The two pairs would trade quick, sharp returns until a risky wide service return finally gave the match to Jung and Lee with a final score of 18-21, 21-18, 27-25.

The women’s doubles did not feature the shouting or the deafening pops of Jung Jae Sung or Ko Sung Hyun’s blistering smashes, each of which raised an ooh or an aah from the small but appreciative crowd, but it was no less competitive.  Yoo Hyun Young and grew up together and have been playing together since middle school.  Eom Hye Won and Kim Ha Na are from opposite ends of Korea: Eom from Pocheon, near the North Korean border, and Kim from the southern island of Cheju.

This final may have appeared to be a walk in the park for Jung/Yoo, who in last year’s Korea International Challenge final in Hwasun had to play a pairing of former world #2 shuttlers Lee Kyung Won and Ha Jung Eun.  On the other hand, Eom and Kim reached the semi-finals in the Canada Grand Prix this past summer and on Friday made quick work of the Russian pair that had troubled Jung/Yoo at the Worlds in Paris.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said Yoo afterward.  “Hye Won and Ha Na and I play for the same university team and Kim is my partner in domestic events so I know how good they are and they both know my game well.  I knew it would be a tough match.”

In the first game, Eom and Yoo got into plenty of clear exchanges, pushing each other to the back of the court, making for some long, exhausting rallies.

“We always train together, either at the national training centre or at university,” Yoo explained, “and we always get teased for lacking power so we often get into rallies like that, sending it long and trying to tire each other out.”

Yoo seemed to have the more powerful partner to rotate to the back for her, even if she did seem to be tiring slightly faster than Eom, who also had the mixed final later to think about.  Jung did plenty of damage at the back, snapping down powerful smashes and giving her partner lots of chances to take control at the net so while Eom and Kim led early in all three games, it was the #2 seeds who came out on top at the right times and took it 21-16, 18-21, 21-19.

Yoo had been called on to specialize in mixed doubles this year and was even runner-up, with Shin Baek Cheol, at the Swiss Open in the spring.  “Mixed was natural for me because I’ve always had the most confidence in my net play,” Yoo said, “but I’ve had some good results with women’s doubles this year and I’d like to stick with it.  I’d like to keep playing with Lee Kyung Won but I guess I won’t get that chance.”

The women’s singles was a repeat of this year’s Badminton Asia Championship final between Li Xuerui and Liu Xin (pictured).  Liu had the upper hand this time, though, winning handily 21-9, 21-14 to take her second Grand Prix title of the year after winning the Bitburger Open earlier this fall. If late 2008 saw the advent of Wang Lin and Wang Yihan and 2009 was the coming out party for Wangs Xin and Shixian, 2010 has marked the arrival of Li and Liu.  Next year Chen Xiaojia and who else?

Next up was Bao Chunlai.  The last time Bao was in Korea was last year in Suwon when he collected an Asian title to add to the Korea Open title (and sizeable winnings) that he picked up in 2006.  Wang Zhengming has come on strong this year, reaching the final of this year’s Asian Championships, as well as the China Masters semi-finals.

Wang kept it close in the first game, even getting his own shot at a game point, but Bao kept his cool and took it 23-21.  In the second, it looked as if the tall veteran would simply run away with the match as he enjoyed a 15-9 lead at one point.  But Wang rallied and nearly drew even at 17-18.  Bao’s experience and patience paid off once again though and he held on to win it 21-18 in the second.

The mixed doubles finished the afternoon’s proceedings, once Yoo Yeon Seong and Eom Hye Won had had a spot of rest after their one-hour-plus finals earlier in the day.  Yoo  Yeon Seong and Kim Min Jung (pictured) came in as clear favourites and Yoo had no intention of being relegated to two silvers as he had been in Suwon last year.  He and Kim have been playing together for a few years now and their biggest title to date had been the World University Games in 2007.

Their nineteen-year-old opponents had their moments of brilliance, to be sure, but Kim and Yoo dominated the match and took it 21-15, 21-13 after just half an hour on court.

“I had really wanted to win the men’s doubles today, too,” said Yoo Yeon Seong after the match.  “But I’m still glad we were able to take the title.

“Still, this isn’t our goal.  We are looking ahead to the next two Super Series events, in China and Hong Kong, and I help to do well there, with Sung Hyun and with Min Jung.”

Yoo needed some cheering up, of course.  He and Ko felt they blew a golden opportunity, literally, when they failed to repeat their success over China’s Xu Chen and Guo Zhendong in the Asian Games men’s team final, depriving Lee Hyun Il a chance at hitting cleanup against Chen Long.

“We had trained so hard for the Asian Games but we just didn’t produce the results,” Yoo explained. “We were especially disappointed that we dropped that match in the team final, even though our team-mates tried to make us feel better afterward.

“Still, I think it was a really good experience and I believe I learned from it, that it will make me a better player in the future.  I certainly have more confidence for the next time in an event like the Asian Games or the Olympics.  That was my first time.”

Yoo and Kim will be joined by only the top echelon of the Korean national team members in heading down to Shanghai, where the top Asians will be back from their Asian Game hiatus and also the best Europeans will make their first appearance on this end of the continent since the Japan Open finished over two months ago.  As a skiff of snow descends on the northern regions of Korea and more artillery was heard in the hotspot to the northwest of Incheon Airport, the badminton tour’s turn to the south will be a welcome one for some.

For complete results, CLICK HERE

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @ badzine.net