KOREA GP 2014 Finals – Lee scores first ever win over Lee

24-year-old Lee Dong Keun won the battle of the returning champions at the Victor Korea Grand Prix in Jeonju, scoring a first ever win over veteran compatriot Lee Hyun Il. […]

24-year-old Lee Dong Keun won the battle of the returning champions at the Victor Korea Grand Prix in Jeonju, scoring a first ever win over veteran compatriot Lee Hyun Il.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, live in Jeonju

Lee Dong Keun and Lee Hyun Il may have both been returning champions at Korea’s autumn Grand Prix badminton event but 34-year-old Hyun Il was by far the most decorated.  Not only was he the champion 2011 and 2013 – leaving the 2012 title opportunity to Dong Keun as he commenced his 3rd retirement from international play – but by the time he was Lee Dong Keun’s age, Lee Hyun Il had already gained and lost the #1 spot in the world rankings.

In the men’s team final at the recent Incheon Asian Games, Lee Hyun Il made a special appearance and delivered the winning point by beating Gao Huan, the man who had denied Lee Dong Keun a spot in the World Junior Championship final in 2008.  Add to that the fact that Lee Dong Keun had never beaten Lee Hyun Il and we get the idea of the odds stacked against the younger player.

However, Lee Dong Keun rose to the occasion and beat those odds with solid defense, sharp attacks, and creative placement.  He also reversed his personal Achilles heel, holding his nerves after getting match point and allowing his veteran opponent to catch up.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a tournament,” said Lee Dong Keun after his win.  “The fact that I was playing a final in Korea was an advantage for me to be at ease and it also makes me even more glad to win it.

“Hyun Il is famous for his ability to get everything back so it’s very hard to beat him with an attacking game.  That’s why I decided to counter with a defensive game of my own and clearly it worked out for me.

“Today, I got to match point first and I have a habit of getting caught and losing after being in that position.  This time, I tried to keep calm and it worked and I was able to get the last two points.

“I’d be lying if I said I was able to put my past failures to convert match points out of my mind, but still, I’ve been watching top-ranked players in similar situations and I’ve tried to learn from it.  Today, I was able to avoid getting too excited and to just keep working at it until I got the win.

“When I won that long rally at 17-all, that really made a difference.  I couldn’t let myself get too excited about it but if I’d lost that one, I think it would have been really difficult to win the match in two games.

“At the Asian Games, I thought Lin Dan might beat me rather easily but I was able to give him a good match.  There and here, too, I feel like the support I get from the crowds means that all I have to worry about is playing the match and that’s a comfortable way to play, when you don’t have pressure and everyone is behind you.

“I think I have the defensive skills I need but when I get into an attacking game, I still run out of stamina.  I need to work on that and also on my speed and if I can improve those aspects of my game, I can start to get better results in Superseries tournaments.

“I was 8th in the Superseries rankings but then I dropped when I didn’t play the French Open.  There are two tournaments left so I’ll do my best and I hope I can qualify for Dubai.

3rd Grand Prix title of the year for the teenager

In the second of the afternoon’s 3 complete matches, 18-year-old Nozomi Okuhara beat her compatriot Sayaka Sato to take her 3rd Grand Prix title of the year and the fourth of her career.  Both ladies are on their way back after injury layoffs but Nozomi is further into her comeback, and although she is still anxious to move from the Japanese National B Team to the A team, she is posting the biggest results of her young career.

Sato first made her mark at the same tournament as Lee Dong Keun, at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Pune, India.  But while Lee was stopped in the semis by the still relatively unknown Gao Huan, Sato made that final in Pune by beating, among others, the current Olympic champion Li Xuerui, who was, even then, the reigning Asian Junior Champion.

Sato’s injury at the 2012 Olympics dealt her career a serious setback but while she is still looking for her first major international title, she can at least be content to have made her first Grand Prix final of the year.

“I won today but I’m not happy with the way I played,” said Nozomi after her match.  “I made so many mistakes today.  My control was not good.  Up until yesterday, I was playing well but not today.

“But Sato made even more mistakes than I did so I think I’m very, very lucky to win the title.  I lost to her last year at the All Japan Championships but in 2011, I beat her so we are 1-1.  This was the first time I’d played her in an international tournament, though.

“I’ve done well in Grand Prix events this year.  I really want to move up to play Grand Prix Gold and Superseries tournaments but first, I need to make the A Team and for that, I need to win at the All Japan tournament next month.”

While Nozomi gears up for the All Japan, most of the performers will be heading to China and/or Hong Kong for the last two Superseries events.

Final results
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] beat Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR) [2]  21-18, 21-19
WD: Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [1] beat Jang Ye Na / Yoo Hae Won (KOR) [5]  15-8 [Retired]
WS: Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [6] beat Sayaka Sato (JPN) [7]  21-17, 21-13
MS: Lee Dong Keun (KOR) [1] beat Lee Hyun Il (KOR) [5]  21-18, 24-22
XD: Choi Sol Kyu / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [6] beat Shin Baek Cheol / Jang Ye Na (KOR) [5]  [walkover]

Click here for complete results

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