KOREA OPEN 2015 R32 – India, Indonesia in the upset business

4 of the first 5 seeds to go down in the Korea Open fell to underdogs from India and Indonesia, as Ihsan Maulana Mustofa confirmed his dominance over Germany’s Marc […]

4 of the first 5 seeds to go down in the fell to underdogs from India and Indonesia, as Ihsan Maulana Mustofa confirmed his dominance over Germany’s Marc Zwiebler.

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

The 2015 Korea Open had already had its upset pattern established earlier than usual as former top ten players Kenichi Tago and Lee Chong Wei suffered shock defeats in the qualifying rounds.  Tuesday play finished with some minor upsets in mixed doubles but all the seeded pairs who had their first matches on opening day survived and the seeds didn’t start to scatter until play commenced on Wednesday.

India and Indonesia were the common denominator in the first few upsets, particularly in the singles disciplines.  The first and highest seed to make an early exit was last year’s runner-up Ratchanok Intanon.  She went down to India’s Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, another player who has seen success in Korea in the past, at both the junior and senior levels.

India’s men got into the game as well.  Ajay Jayaram took out last week’s Japan Open runner-up Viktor Axelsen in straight games.  Jayaram found that he was better able to adapt to the wind and lighting in the hall and he played a fast-paced game that the Dane just couldn’t find a way to counter.

Shortly after Jayaram celebrated his victory, though, the Indian team saw the second of the upsets that had Indian players as the victims.  Kidambi Srikanth became the latest casualty of Tian Houwei’s run of form.  Tian had beaten two-time World Champion last week in Japan and this time, he waltzed past Srikanth to take his place in the second round.

Kashyap Parupalli had lost earlier in the day to Wei Nan of Hong Kong.  H. S. Prannoy was the only Indian singles shuttler not involved in an upset as he loss to Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen was predicted by the seedings.

Indonesian youngsters in familiar territory

Ihsan Maulana Mustofa and Jonatan Christie haven’t had a crack at seeded players yet but each scored an upset they had already done this year.  Mustofa was right back on the track he was on in Japan: coming through qualifying to beat Marc Zwiebler in the first round.  Christie’s was a bit more of a stretch but he did advance in a event on the back of a win over a Korean named Lee.

“Patience,” Mustofa replied when asked for the secret to his consecutive wins over the world #14 Zwiebler.  “I didn’t think about the result.  I just played…played to my maximum.

“I hoped I could beat Lee Chong Wei yesterday, but then I didn’t have to because he lost to the Korean player.  For this tournament, I just want to focus on playing well and then I’ll just go with the flow.  I’m not looking to win, but I don’t want to lose.

“I hope that I can build on this success and keep playing well in the future and beat more top players.”

Korea’s Lee Dong Keun had a good week last week in Tokyo, making the quarter-final of a Superseries event for the first time in 17 months.  He stamped his authority early on his match against Jonatan Christie, leading 11-5 at the first game interval.  Christie responded with an 8-point run after the break and after saving three game points, he went into the lead.

The two men split the next two games and it is Jonatan Christie who will go on to face Sho Sasaki of Japan.  Unfortunately for Lee, who has won both Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold titles at home, his first experience making it past the first round of his home Superseries event will not happen this year.

After his victory, Christie denied that he had any special advantage over Korean players, or Korean players named Lee, explaining, “The first thing is that I really wanted to play all out.  I also wanted to show everybody that I can do it, even though I’m still young.”

Christie said that even though he is still eligible for junior events, he will not have that final chance to stop Lin Guipu and the others:  “Even though I really want to play the World Junior Championships this year, my coach won’t allow me to.  He wants me to concentrate on events at the senior level.  I do feel I’m ready to play these Superseries and other senior tournaments.”

The one seed that did fall to Indonesians on Wednesday was World Championship runners-up and sixth seeds Liu Xiaolong / Qiu Zihan.  Singapore Open winners Angga Pratama / Ricky Karanda Suwardi needed only 26 minutes to leave the Chinese pair winless since their semi-final match at the Worlds.

Payback time for Koreans

Late in the day came a couple of Korean pairs got the chance to right some ‘wrongs’ from last week’s Japan Open.  Japan’s Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda added last week to an already long list of upsets of Korean players.  They scored their 3rd career vitory over former World Champions Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol.

This week it was Ko and Shin exacting the payback from the Japanese pair, who were also the ones who ousted Kim and Kim from the Korea Open in 2014.  Instead, it was the brand new pairing of Kim Jae Hwan and Choi Sol Gyu who did the honours.  Kim and Choi, 19 and 20 respectively, just piled the pressure on the world #20 the match was over in two games.

“We didn’t really go in with a strategy,” said Kim Jae Hwan afterward.  “It’s just that we had both already gone out in mixed doubles and we really wanted to go all out to win in men’s doubles.”

Both men are playing with veteran women partners in mixed but neither has been able to post a result of any note with his new partner.  The Japan Open was even more of a let down for Kim and Choi as their men’s doubles campaign had also suffered.

“Last week, we didn’t play well so we talked about this a lot, that we wanted to do well in our home tournament,” said Choi Sol Gyu.  “Even though we knew our opponents were a lot higher ranked, we decided we just needed to relax and play our best.”

Of course, it’s not only the difference in ranking that separates the two pairs but the Koreans also have very little experience – in particular in senior events and also in playing together as a pair.

“I just turned 19 and I was only picked for the national team this year so I haven’t had that many chances to play at this level,” said Kim.

Choi added, “This is only our third tournament together.  We know we don’t have the experience that many of our opponents have so we really look at each match as a learning experience so it’s just incredible when we can get that experience and also win like we did today.  Of course, since we have been in so few tournaments, our opponents don’t really know what to expect and that give us something of an advantage.”

The last match of the day featured a slightly more direct version of payback.  Chae Yoo Jung and Kim So Yeong had seen their impressive run at the Japan Open stopped last week but the eventual winners.  This week, the Koreans met half of that pair, with Bao Yixin stepping in to replace Zhao Yunlei and reunite a pair that was once ranked #2 in the world.

All three games were very close until in the decider, the Koreans put in a 4-point run that put them up 18-12.  With the finish line in sight, Chae and Kim began to falter as Bao and Zhong narrowed the gap.  The Chinese players kept insisting on getting on with play, resisting the temptation to sneak in any little breaks.  The Koreans finally pulled it out 21-18 in the decider.

Click here for complete Wednesday 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