KOREA OPEN 2015 Preview – Reversing the tide

Team Korea is back a full 20 months after its last, dismal showing at its home Superseries badminton event and the home shuttlers will be hungry for titles but up […]

Team Korea is back a full 20 months after its last, dismal showing at its home badminton event and the home shuttlers will be hungry for titles but up against visitors hungry for what else?…Olympic ranking points.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

It has been nearly two years since the last Superseries.  Unfortunately for the Korean shuttlers, this extra-long interval just happens to follow the home team’s worst showing in the event’s 24-year history.  Not only was 2014 the third time that no Korean succeeded in winning a title, but unlike in 2006 or 2012, when Korea had at least one finalist and had semi-finals in all but one discipline, the semi-final loss by Sung Ji Hyun (pictured) was the only glimpse of a Korean uniform on the final weekend last year.

Korea’s 2015 opportunity to salvage some pride comes just a week after neighbour Japan re-affirmed an almost opposite trend.  After being denied Japan Open wins for decades, Japan has seen titles stay at home in three consecutive editions.

As motivated as the Koreans may be to get back to ruling at least some of the roosts at home, the overseas contingent will be just as keen as the Olympic qualifying period is bringing the expected strength over the water, with only a few omissions from world badminton’s top echelon.

One interesting factor to consider is that in the past eight consecutive editions of this event that were held during Korea’s frosty winter, Lee Chong Wei is the only player from South-east Asia to win a title in Seoul.  In 2006, the last summer edition of the Korea Open, both the men’s and mixed doubles titles went to Indonesia, which has the 2nd seeds in both disciplines this year, including 2006 mixed champion Liliyana Natsir (pictured right).

Men’s doubles – All eyes on…who else?

Once again, Korea’s top prospect will be men’s doubles generally and Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured top) in particular.  In fact, an occasionally heard rationalization for the 2014 title void is that Lee and Kim Ki Jung – half of one of Korea’s other top title prospects – were at the time awaiting a decision on a doping case that saw them first suspended and then later given a pass.

Lee Yong Dae, of course, reached at least one final seven years in a row and won a title on six of those occasions.  Lee and Yoo Yeon Seong are also responsible two of the three Superseries titles won so far this year by Korean players, including their title defense in Japan on the eve of their home Superseries.

The Koreans have a tricky first-round contest against Indonesia’s Gideon Markus Fernaldi / Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo but World Champions Ahsan and Setiawan are in the bottom half of the draw with the three top Chinese pairs, among others.

China’s Hong Wei, who was runner-up in Korea last year, is playing with Chai Biao but again has to start against a Danish pair.  This week it is Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (pictured bottom), who have a reputation for early round upsets.

Men’s doubles first round matches of note:
Chai Biao / Hong Wei (CHN) [5] vs. Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen (DEN)
Liu Xiaolong / Qiu Zihan (CHN) [7] vs. Angga Pratama / Ricky Karanda Suwardi (INA)

Mixed favourites surrounded; does it matter?

Especially with newly-crowned Japan Open champions Fischer Nielsen and Pedersen missing from the mixed draw in Korea, 3-time defending champions Zhao Yunlei and Zhang Nan are the overwhelming favourites to take the title again.  Zhao has never left Korea without a title, in a perfect 7-for-7 record that goes back all the way to the Asian Junior Championships in 2004.

The top seeds have three quality home pairs packed into their quarter of the draw, if you count Yoo Yeon Seong and Jang Ye Na, who are expected to come through qualifying.  The new pairing of Choi Sol Gyu and Eom Hye Won have been beaten by three different Chinese pairs in their first three tournaments together and are expected to give Zhang and Zhao their first test in the second round.

Korea’s pairs scored some key upsets last week in Japan, and the two that succeeded in making the semi-finals in Tokyo are also in the top half of the draw, possibly waiting for Zhang and Zhao in the Seoul semi-finals.

Mixed doubles first round matches of note:
Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [7] vs. Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG)
Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [6] vs. Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS)

Women’s doubles – All shook up

Women’s doubles winners have been impossible to predict this year, as evidenced by the fact that the first seven Superseries events had seven different winners.  Part of the unpredictability arises from the constant partnership changes in the Chinese camp, a trend that the Koreans are also continuing even over four months into the qualifying period for Rio.

The withdrawal of top-seeded Matsutomo/Takahashi from their quarter-final last week adds another question mark, as does the absence of half of the Japan Open-winning pair, as Zhao Yunlei will concentrate on mixed and let Zhong Qianxin try her hand reunited with Bao Yixin (pictured).

Korea will have the same six pairings that were in action last week but several will be glad to be spared the extra day of playing qualifying rounds, while two will start against some of China’s best.

Women’s doubles first round matches of note:
Ma Jin / Tang Yuanting (CHN) [5] vs. Eom Hye Won / Kim Ha Na (KOR)
Bao Yixin / Zhong Qianxin (CHN) [8] vs. Chae Yoo Jung / Kim So Yeong (KOR)

Men’s singles: More of the same in store?

Chen Long, the defending champion and world #1 is the favourite to win again in Seoul but he once again starts in the same quarter as three-time champion Lin Dan.  Lin, meanwhile, is again likely to have an early round showdown with Son Wan Ho.  Theoretically, a home crowd supporting him could be a boon if, as he did in Tokyo, he finds himself with a match point…or five!  However, Seoul is certainly not known for its midweek crowds so the likelihood is high that home players will have to rely on talent and team-mates until the weekend.

Lee Chong Wei (pictured, with Chen Long) is also slated to play qualifying rounds again this week and once again he must take on 2013 World Junior Champion Heo Kwang Hee.  Lee also could have last week’s giant-killer Ihsan Maulana Mustofa to contend with.

Men’s singles first round matches of note:
Marc Zwiebler (GER) vs. Lee Chong Wei (MAS)
Kidambi Srikanth (IND) [4] vs. Tian Houwei (CHN)

The women’s singles draw may be without the top two players in the world, as Carolina Marin and Saina Nehwal both elected to sit this one out, but it is still loaded with talent.

All the top Chinese, Japanese, and Thai shuttlers are set to compete, along with Tai Tzu Ying of Taipei as the top seed.  World Championship semi-finalist Sung Ji Hyun is the only non-Chinese shuttler to win this event in its last five editions and she will be keen to improve on the bronze medal she earned last year.

Many of the top visiting contenders have undesirable draws.  Three of China’s top four are all in the same quarter.  Meanwhile both of the Japan Open finalists have tricky starts.  Nozomi Okuhara faces Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (pictured), who upset her at the Worlds last month.

Akane Yamaguchi is up against Korea’s own Kim Hyo Min, who beat the world #10 in Germany earlier this year and against whom she always has to play to three games.

Women’s singles first round matches of note:
Nozomi Okuhara (JPN) [7] vs. Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (THA)
Ratchanok Intanon (THA) [3] vs. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND)

Badzine will be on site for most of the week to bring you live reports, together with live photos from Badmintonphoto.

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