AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2015 QF – Summoning six skills in a second

Two world #2s fell victim to Korean underdogs in the quarter-finals the Star Australian Open Superseries, while one #1 narrowly escaped the cross-hairs. By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in […]

Two world #2s fell victim to Korean underdogs in the quarter-finals the Star , while one #1 narrowly escaped the cross-hairs.

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Sydney.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

The best brings out the best

It’s taken a while at this year’s edition, but a sterling women’s doubles contest to watch finally unfolded when Korea took on the world #1 pair from Japan.  Last year in the Round of 16, Korea’s Go Ah Ra / Yoo Hae Won (pictured) very nearly displaced eventual champions Tian Qing / Zhao Yunlei.  This year Go and Yoo supplied the same nail-biting tension as well as again unfortunately coming up 3 points short of victory in three games against the world’s best.

Under the tutelage of Beijing silver medallist-turned-coach Lee Kyung Won, the young Koreans played nothing like their world ranking of #22 suggests.  Go and Yoo, who have been training together since elementary school and playing doubles together since middle school, were excellent at procuring lifts and tightly coordinated at tandem smashing assaults and swapping with each other as rear commander within rallies.  More than 80 minutes into play, all four ladies were pumping out long rallies at full strength.

Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured), each of small frame and one being especially slight, in return offered up unmovable defence and change of direction deflections which made it the kind of classy rallies where you wondered who would emerge on top.  Although long, the rallies weren’t boring, the 40th strokes being no less exciting and nail biting than the 20th.

And then it became apparent why the Japanese made it to the top of the rankings when Matsutomo anticipated correctly, early and sneaked in swiftly to cut off a drop-shot at the top of the tape.  It is not simply the skill and vision to do this but the bravery, poise and perfect balance in executing it under the pressure of the closing stages of the match against top notch opponents that is exceptional because she had to first possess and then call upon the aforementioned six skills in a flash.

Matsutomo/Takahashi possess the baseline marathon fitness qualities of the Japanese style but together have added a distinctive layer of genius at reading the rally which helped them move forward 22-24, 21-12, 21-18, into the semi-final once more at the Australian Superseries.

Ko Sung Hyun the superhero!

Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun was every inch the superhero of the night, given how much dexterity and energy he summoned to keep his side in the match.  In mixed doubles, if Kim Ha Na (pictured) could have summoned even basic level energy and concentration right after winning the opening game 27-25, the Koreans could probably have sealed it in straight fashion.

Ko battled 1.5 against the two Chinese top seeds Xu Chen / Ma Jin until partner Kim found back her normal state in third game, and at least on five occasions making Xu fall backwards.  Defending champions Kim/Ko won through 27-25, 19-21, 21-16, over their not physically tired but ‘partnership tired’ Chinese opponents.

Li Xuerui’s facepalm

China lost the top seed in women’s singles too on the same night while the second seed Saina Nehwal of India also exited.

Sometimes you lose the match but gain fans, as did tournament top seed Li Xuerui (pictured), who came from what seemed like too far behind to rescue the deciding game to within one point (or maybe one stroke) of levelling.  In the longest rally of that game, the Chinese made an impatient and altogether human unforced error in executing her signature cross court drop-shot to the opponent’s forehand side because of not preparing properly for it – something all badminton players have done.  Instead of 18-18, Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun (pictured bottom) continued to maintain a buffer which she clutched tightly until the end, 21-17, 10-21, 21-17.

“There are no tall girls in the Korean team so I train with the men to simulate what to expect with the tall Chinese players,” explained Sung of her success.  “When my opponent was coming back so close at the end I told myself to try and relax.”

After the match, though, relaxation was the last thing Sung Ji Hyun would be wanting to do.  She had been waiting a very long time for this win.  She suffered her first of 12 consecutive defeats at the hands of Li Xuerui way back in 2007 in the first round of the Asian Junior Championships, making this victory her lucky number 13.

Click here for complete quarter-final results

Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @