KOREA OPEN 2015 QF – World Champions down

Men’s doubles stayed on seed until World Champions Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan lost out to Korea’s Kim Ki Jung and Kim Sa Rang. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live […]

Men’s doubles stayed on seed until World Champions Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan lost out to Korea’s Kim Ki Jung and Kim Sa Rang.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seoul.  Photos: Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto (live)

The last time Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan came to Korea, they won Asian Games gold.  What’s more, on the way, they had to beat Kim Ki Jung and Kim Sa Rang in the latter’s hometown in the semi-finals.

This time, the two Kims, who also lost to the Indonesians at the two years ago, seized the opportunity.  After trailing early in the match, they surged at the right time to take the first game, then continuing with some smart attacking and precision defense, they opened up a big lead.  Although Ahsan and Setiawan did manage to narrow the gap, the Koreans held on for the win.

“The Japan Open last week and the Korea Open here are both really important tournaments,” said Kim Sa Rang.  “This match was as tough as we expected it to be and it turned out the way we wanted.  The week isn’t over yet so we’re going to keep playing hard and we hope to reach the finals and win.

“There was a big difference in the ends.  From one end of the court, the shuttles moved really fast and from the other, it was really slow.  Unfortunately, we lost the toss before the match but fortunately, we managed to win first on the slow side and then we opened up some breathing room once we changed ends.

“We don’t really think about whether our opponents might be World Champions,” said Kim Ki Jung.  “They are quarter-finalists at this event and that’s enough.  We really just concentrate on our own playing, especially because we are playing at home in Korea.  Besides, we have enough to think about trying to get used to the wind on court.”

The home team will be gunning to produce an all-Korean final for the first time since 2007, when Lee Yong Dae won his first title.  The Koreans actually attempted to place three pairs in the final four, but although Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol fought hard against defending champions Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen, the Danes were just too good in the end.

Top seeds Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong are fresh off their second consecutive Japan Open victory but they really came into their quarter-final with something to prove.  Their opponents, Japan’s Hiroyuki Endo / Kenichi Hayakawa were the ones who ousted them last year at this stage.

Endo and Hayakawa bounced back from an ineffective first game and took a sizeable lead to start off the second.  The Koreans gave chase and the growing Friday afternoon crowd started to get into it.  The Koreans got a 12-10 lead but were prevented from pulling away in a spectacular rally where both players dove to the backhand side on consecutive shots and a third to the same spot ended the rally as Yoo Yeon Seong scrambled off court to replace his racquet.

The Japanese pair did pass the Koreans eventually and even got a game point opportunity when Lee Yong Dae served into the net at 19-all but the home favourites weathered the storm and took the second game 22-20.

“Last year, we were too relaxed and we had a really tough match,” said Yoo Yeon Seong.  “This year again, the shuttles weren’t flying very fast so we predicted that would be an advantage when on defense and when you get the attack, you have to be ready keep firing away until you finish the rally.  We concentrated on what we had to do and it worked out well.”

Asked about the fact that the crowd seems to be by far the most responsive when this pair is on court, Lee Yong Dae said, “Actually, because the fans in Korea cheer in a language we understand, we can sometimes find ourselves listening and even losing our focus.  It’s so important that we maintain our concentration, especially on the service situations that even a small thing can affect a point.

“On the other hand, of course, knowing that people are pulling for you really gives you the motivation to give it your all rally after rally and gives you the strength to carry on and finish the match.”

Unlike his partner, who has won six Korea Open titles already, Yoo Yeon Seong is still in the hunt for his first title but he denied that this is something he keeps in mind during the tournament: “Last year, too, I played in this tournament with Yong Dae and we were really hoping to win and we let our guard down and lost.  I think that’s true of every tournament we play: if we think too much about being champions, we start to put on too much pressure and that can affect our game.

“We know that if we play our best, we can beat any pair so we try to concentrate on playing our match instead of on winning the tournament, and that is how we are able to win titles.”

“I think the Danes are in top form here and they won their quarter-final pretty easily,” said Lee Yong Dae of their upcoming semi-final.  “We have played them a lot and we know their game really well.  We have been able to win most of our matches against them in the past and that gives us confidence going into that match so we hope to play a good one against them tomorrow.”

In the first match of the day, Malaysia’s Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong showed flashes of brilliance, especially in their first game against Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan.  Their overall originality, along with some spectacular retrievals, elicited more than a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from the crowd, despite the fact that spectators’ attention was more or less fixed on the Koreans in the two adjacent courts.

In the end, the current world #3 were the more consistent.  It was also the Chinese who were better able to keep pounding away on the attack when the longer rallies left the two pairs trading clears because they couldn’t put the slow shuttles onto the floor.

“Seriously, even though I’ve played for so long, since I’ve come back, I feel like everything is so new,” said Koo after the match.  “Mentally…everything, including the partnership between me and him and how I face my opponents.

“It’s quite exciting and I know I have a lot of things to improve on.  If we want to qualify for the Olympics, we have to improve a lot.

“Of course.  If not, I wouldn’t be back playing.  I won’t worry about the ranking as long as I play my best and win as much as I can, playing my best in every single tournament.  That’s what I’m looking for now but at the end of the day, playing the Olympics is still my target.

“Today and the first two days were totally different.  There is no wind today and the shuttle is slow.  They are more experienced and they are more physically fit than us.

“For now, first of all, I need to get back my tournament feeling.  I’ll go for any tournament – big, small – and we’ll do that until the end of the year.

“One of the difficulties for us now is that we don’t have any sparring partners.  We have two coaches and two juniors who can’t really help us in any way.  That’s one reason we have to travel and go for more tournaments – for the sparring.”

Fu and Zhang will take on the two Kims for a spot in the final.

Click here for complete quarter-final 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