KOREA OPEN 2016 QF – Wong whittles China down to single singles

Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki ousted Tian Houwei to leave China with just one singles semi-finalist while Korea clinches three finals spots early. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in […]

Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki ousted Tian Houwei to leave China with just one singles semi-finalist while Korea clinches three finals spots early.

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

A week ago in Japan, a young, understrength Chinese team was still able to dominate the action in three finals.  But just when it looked like a new age was upon us, a combination of impressive performances from virtually all other teams has left a very manageable-looking Chinese presence for semi-finals day, with Qiao Bin, in particular, their only remaining singles shuttler for Saturday.

Vietnam Open champion Wong Wing Ki (pictured) had only been in one semi-final prior to this week and that was at this very same tournament, back in 2013.  Today in Seongnam, Wong saw off All England runner-up Tian Houwei (pictured below) of China to help thin the field of Chinese singles shuttlers to one, whom Wong will attempt to dispose of on his way to his first ever Superseries Sunday.

“This will be the second Superseries semi-final of my career.  The first time was also here, in 2013, so it feels quite amazing because it’s the same tournament,” said Wong Wing Ki after his match.

“I think I played well today because we both have the same style and it was really a question of who could play with the most patience.  I felt tired but I could see from his face that he was also tired so I think it was just a matter of who could be stronger mentally.  It wouldn’t be decided by technique.

“In the last few points, maybe he was under stress because his coach was shouting and maybe he felt a little bit nervous.  That gave me a chance to play the way I wanted.  My smash is my weapon and I had to show it off on my last points.

“The Vietnam Open was actually my first ever international title, not just my first Grand Prix.  Winning it gave me a lot of confidence.  Last week at the Japan Open, I lost to Viktor Axelsen and I thought I still wasn’t ready to play the Olympic bronze medallist so after that, I trained a lot to get ready for this tournament.

“I’ve played well so far but I hope to play with a lot of confidence to show my good performance to the crowd.”

While Tian’s team-mate Qiao Bin remains, after trouncing Heo Kwang Hee in the quarter-finals, he will be the one who has to deal with Wong’s momentum.  The other men’s singles semi-final will be one of three all-Korean affairs, as Son Wan Ho and Lee Hyun Il bested Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and Ajay Jayaram respectively, each in straight games.

The women’s singles discipline featured an all-Chinese final last week in Japan but with both of those finalists – Sun Yu and He Bingjiao – having been shown the exit early this week, young Chen Yufei was the sole Chinese flagbearer on Friday and she came up against Minatsu Mitani (pictured), who was riding high from her Thursday victory over the Japan Open winner.

Once again, Mitani bounced back from a game down and closed out the win in three, this time booking a semi-final engagement with team-mate Akane Yamaguchi.

“For me, the top three – Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian, and Wang Yihan – are the level above,” explained Mitani after her win.  “He Bingjiao and Chen Yufei good be better eventually but at this moment, I have confidence that I can beat them.  Even if, technically speaking, I might be lower than those two younger girls, at this moment, I have the confidence so I am much better than them.  So it doesn’t make me super happy just to have beaten those two players.”

Defending champion Sung Ji Hyun repeated the quarter-final success over Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying (pictured right) that she had last year en route to her second title.  This time, it has earned her a semi-final showdown with team-mate Kim Hyo Min (pictured below), who was the only other of the four Korean quarter-finalists to survive to the weekend.

“Last year, too, I beat Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals and went on to win the ,” said Sung afterward.  “Tai always gives me a tough match and it is very difficult to beat her so now that I’m lucky enough to have won that match, it does feel like I might be on my way to the title.

“I’ve always done quite well at the Korea Open but as for the other big tournaments, it’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to do as well.  It’s disappointing but it’s something I’ve got to overcome.

“I did reach the semi-finals of the World Championships last year, but that was especially frustrating because I was leading and then I ended up losing to Carolina Marin.  That is still a sort of weak point for me.

“Carolina Marin is physically very strong and she is also fast so if I want to play against her I have to match her speed and I just have to be fit enough to do that.

On the success of her team-mates, who together accounted for half the competitors in today’s quarter-finals, Sung said, “It feels great to know that younger Korean players are also doing well at the Korea Open, especially when they are doing it in women’s singles too and hopefully that will lead to more interest in singles.”

Asked about her fitness in her first appearance since losing to Marin in the Rio quarter-finals, Sung said, “Actually, between the Olympics and now, I’ve had some time to relax and I think that has been good for my physical fitness.

“Of course, this being right after the Olympics, there are players who have retired and others who elected not to come, then Carolina and Nozomi entered then withdrew.  We did have the younger Chinese girls in the tournament.  Of course, it’s noticeable that they’re gone but it’s just nice that we have had some Korean players to play well and move up.”

The doubles events were mostly devoid of upsets.  One notable exception was the upset of Ahsan/Setiawan by last week’s winners Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen.  However, given the fact that it was the Chinese 21-year-olds’ fourth straight victory over the World Champions, the word ‘upset’ starts to sound tenuous.

China is down to one pair in mixed and women’s doubles.  Their top pair in the latter discipline, Luo Ying and Yu, were put to the test by Bulgaria’s Gabriela and Stefani Stoeva (pictured) before winning in three games.  In men’s, they will have Wang Yilu and Huang Kaixiang taking a shot at world #1 Lee/Yoo, but China’s top-ranked pair, Chai Biao and Hong Wei went down in three games to Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong.

Malaysia’s Olympic silver medallists advanced in the mixed doubles as well, although Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying (pictured below) had more trouble than expected with Denmark’s new pairing of Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Sara Thygesen.  Things went as expected in the first game, and when the Malaysians were awarded a point at 18-12, and the Danes protested that there had been a double hit, Chan Peng Soon even responded by confessing that the shuttle had touched his racquet, prompting the umpire to award the point to Denmark.

Chan later admitted that it was the first time he had ever had occasion request such a correction of an umpire but the result of that first game was a foregone conclusion.  The Danish team rallied to take the second, however, and push the match to a deciding game before the #3 seeds finally took it away.

“It was difficult because they are a new pair and they are very strong,” said Chan Peng Soon after the match.  “We’ve never played them before so the strategy is quite different.”

Goh Liu Ying added, “I think the opposing players may be gearing up more to play us after our silver medal but I don’t think that should mean pressure for us because after the Olympics, it’s a new start.  We have to face it like starting from zero.”

Their semi-final opponents will be top-seeded Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na, who won in straight games over Astrup/Kjaerdsfelt.

“Ko and Kim beat us in the Japan Open last week but we beat them in the New Zealand Open.  Playing them in Korea, we don’t expect much but it is the semi-final so we are definitely going to go in there and play our best,” said Goh.

From the Koreans’ perspective, they now have the title favourites in all five disciplines but the Malaysians are just one of many challengers who will be looking to thwart their attempt to become only the second nation to achieve a Superseries title sweep.

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