KOREA MASTERS 2015 SF – Same 4 for home team

Team Korea locked up the same four titles as last year and was again shut out of the women’s singles final at the Korea Masters in Jeonju. Story and photos […]

Team Korea locked up the same four titles as last year and was again shut out of the women’s singles final at the in Jeonju.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Jeonju

There are some new pairings involved in Sunday’s finals at the Korea Masters Gold in Jeonju but there will also be a distinct air of familiarity.  Korea has locked up titles in the same four disciplines which had all-Korean finals in last year’s edition and in the other, Sayaka Sato has become a repeat finalist herself.

Saturday’s semi-finals began uncharacteristically early as both of Korea’s 2013 finalists took to the courts at 11AM to attempt to lock up another discipline for the home team.  Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen have been troubling plenty of established pairs since they first carried their junior success over to the senior tour early last year.

It was the Chinese twenty-year-olds’ first encounter with Korea’s #3 pair but they were not able to trouble Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (pictured above) as much as they had Shin and former partner Yoo Yeon Seong at last year’s Badminton Asia Championships.  This one was over in just half an hour and Ko and Shin booked their third consecutive finals appearance in Korea’s autumn Grand Prix.

Minutes later, Kim Ki Jung and Kim Sa Rang were finishing off Chinese Taipei’s young upstarts, Lee Jhe Huei / Lee Yang (pictured).  It was the two Lees who had benefited from Lee Yong Dae’s neck injury on Friday but on Saturday it was the two Kims who made the most of the opportunity.  The Koreans won in 24 minutes and they will face Ko and Shin in a repeat of the final in 2013, the last time the event was a Grand Prix Gold.

Both Korean pairs are searching for a pile of points to ensure they can make it to the world’s top 8 in May.  Compatriots Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong have so many points that they are virtually assured of an Olympic berth but a second pair is possible only if they too can reach the top 8 by the time the Olympic qualification period ends.

“Well, of course, since it’s a final and we just have one more match to win the tournament, we’re focussed on doing our best tomorrow,” said Kim Ki Jung after the semi-final victory.

“There are still a lot of tournaments left in the Olympic qualifying period and we have to keep working hard to accumulate points because we don’t have enough that we can just relax and figure we’re in,” said Kim Sa Rang.  “We don’t feel so much pressure to win this one in particular, though.  It’s not as if this is the last event that we have to win or we can’t go to Rio.

“We weren’t able to play that many tournaments last year so we’re coming back from that and especially in the latter part of this year, our results have improved and we’ve been training hard to do this.  I think if we can keep our present form, we should be able to move into the top five.”

Local girl stammers, then shines

Shin Seung Chan was already the last representative of North Jeolla Province when she played her quarter-final on Friday.  Yoo Yeon Seong had already withdrawn at that point and Kim Jae Hwan had just lost on the adjacent court in men’s doubles.

Last autumn, Shin, a native of nearby Gochang who spent her entire middle and high school in Jeonju, did the region proud when she left with two titles.  However, both of these were academic as her opponent Jang Ye Na was forced to withdraw from both finals after only a few points of the opening match.

This year, Jang is back with Shin’s former partner Lee So Hee.  Shin Seung Chan has her own new partner in Jung Kyung Eun (pictured above) and together they are among the most exciting new partnerships in women’s doubles.  They are also both in the hunt for their own spots in the Olympic qualifying list.

Shin and Jung are coming off a successful European tour where they collected the Denmark Open title and a semi-final appearance at the French Open.  They came in confident and looked to be in control of their first game against Japan’s Yuki Fukushima  / Sayaka Hirota (pictured bottom with Jung/Shin).  The underdogs quietly chipped away at the Koreans’ lead and mixed things up at the net to cause enough confusion that they were able to steal the first game 21-19.

Jung and Shin’s response was unequivocal.  To the delight of the small, partisan crowd, the Koreans smashed their way to an incredible 11-0 lead at the second game interval.  Things kept on in much the same vein for the rest of the match as the home favourites kept ahead for the rest of the match and won the second and third games decisively.

The other women’s doubles semi-final was also a fast-paced affair.  Korea’s top-ranked pair, Goh Ah Ra / Yoo Hae Won, should be moving into the coveted top 8 in the Race to Rio standings on Thursday but they were unable to justify their ranking against Korea Open runners-up Jang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (pictured above).

Goh and Yoo forced Jang and Lee to play some stellar defense but strong as they are, they were unable to put enough pressure on their compatriots to take the upper hand in either game.

Sun joins 3 repeat singles finalists

The semi-final rounds in both singles disciplines featured some first-time match-ups.  In the women’s singles, 2013 champion Bae Yeon Ju was facing Sun Yu (pictured) for the first time.  Bae is among the few players who have beaten China’s top three shuttlers but it is clear from today’s match that Sun Yu could pose a new challenge for the 25-year-old lefthander.

Sun was never in any danger in either game and quickly finished off a pair of 21-8 games.  She will face 2014 runner-up Sayaka Sato, who spent the same time on court beating Sun’s compatriot Shen Yaying, decisively, though by slightly less impressive scores.

Lee Dong Keun’s semi-final against Son Wan Ho was a first ever match-up only on paper.  The two shuttlers train together regularly on the Korean national team but this was their first meeting in international play.  Lee once again rose to the occasion in the event he has already won twice and outplayed Son to book his spot in the final.

Everything else about the end of the men’s singles event is even more familiar.  The other semi-final was the fourth showdown in the past twelve months between Lee Hyun Il and Jeon Hyeok Jin.  With Lee’s win, the final will be a repeat of last year.

“This is the first time I’ve ever played Son Wan Ho in an international tournament,” Lee Dong Keun (pictured) confirmed after his victory.  “When we train together, things are pretty even but the one who is in better condition on the day and who is able to keep his concentration level up is the one who wins.

“Last year, when I played Lee Hyun Il in the final, that was the first time I’d played him in an international tournament but he had beaten me twice in domestic competitions.  For tomorrow’s final, if I can play as well as I know I can, I’m hoping for a good result.

“Last year, after the Asian Games, my form sort of went down but with the Olympic qualification looming, I’ve been more motivated and I’d really like to play in Rio so I’m hoping I can start getting the results.

“I think it’s good that it’s so competitive within the Korean team.  It’s not just me and Wan Ho.  Jeon Hyeok Jin and Heo Kwang Hee are also improving so much and they are coming up in the rankings and the results and that motivates us to play well, too.  And in situations like this where we have to play against each other, there is a spirit of camaraderie, not negative feeling.”

Men’s doubles partners Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol will be facing each other in the mixed final on Sunday afternoon.  Ko and Kim Ha Na took their one-game lead over Choi/Eom with a late surge in the first game, then dominated the second.  Shin Baek Cheol and Chae Yoo Jung (pictured) held on to win two close ones against Kim/Shin.

Finals line-up
MD: Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR) [2] vs. Kim Ki Jung / Kim Sa Rang (KOR) [3]
WD: Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (KOR) [5] vs. Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [6]
MS: Lee Hyun Il (KOR) [2] vs. Lee Dong Keun (KOR) [4]
WS: Sun Yu (CHN) [2] vs. Sayaka Sato (JPN) [4]
XD: Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [1] vs. Shin Baek Cheol / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [5]

Click here for complete semi-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