KOREA OPEN 2016 R16 – Koreans young and old dominate Europe

Europe lost three of its top contenders at the Korea Open to Korean underdogs, starting with Jan Jorgensen’s ousting by veteran Lee Hyun Il. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live […]

Europe lost three of its top contenders at the to Korean underdogs, starting with Jan Jorgensen’s ousting by veteran Lee Hyun Il.

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

The 2016 Korea Open began with only one top 5 player from each of the singles disciplines and both Ratchanok Intanon and Jan Jorgensen lost early on Thursday.  Intanon went down early to China’s youngest player Chen Yufei (pictured below) – who would later turn out to be their only women’s singles quarter-finalist – but shortly thereafter, Jorgensen would fight a losing battle against the tournament’s oldest competitor.

36-year-old Lee Hyun Il (pictured left) has not won a tournament since he beat Lin Dan in the controversial 2008 final to become only the second Korean winner in the history of the Korea Open.  Today, he saw off the challenge of this year’s highest-ranked competitor, world #5 Jan Jorgensen of Denmark.  Jorgensen took the first game but the ageless Lee wasn’t going to let go and he pushed the match to a decider, which he won handily.

Since his latest comeback from retirement in late 2013, Lee has been in 12 Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold finals and has won 8 of them.  However, Friday will mark his first quarter-final in a Superseries tournament since the 2012 All England.

If Lee wants to reach the semi-finals, he will have to deal with 2015 runner-up Ajay Jayaram (pictured below), who was too much for China’s Huang Yuxiang.  Like Lee, Huang has won two Grand Prix Gold titles this year but this was not his week to turn that form into Superseries success.

“After I reached the final here last year, I played so many tournaments and had a lot of first round exits so I didn’t really think about last year.  I think both the first and second round this week were good wins for me,” said Jayaram after his match.

“I think since last year, a lot of tournaments resulted in less practice and somewhere the fitness lagged and that showed in my performances.  Then I got a bit of a break so the post-Olympic qualifying period, it’s been a lot better.

“When you have some withdrawals like this, it can affect the strength of the tournament a little bit but in my case, I wasn’t really slated to play any of the seeded players early anyway.

“It is a good opportunity.  There is no doubt about that.  Even last year, Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan both lost early but apart from those two or three, you have a good lot of twenty players who all could beat each other on any day so in that way it’s still a tough competition.

“I struggled the last time I played against Lee Hyun Il so I’ll have to work out a better plan this time.  I only saw his first set.  I didn’t expect Lee to pull it out against Jan.  Clearly, he is still fit at 36.”

After Huang’s loss, China’s remaining competitors – Qiao Bin and Tian Houwei – withstood their challenges, from Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin and Seo Seung Jae respectively, and Denmark already had their quarter-finalist on deck after Hans-Kristian Vittinghus had beaten Wang Tzu Wei early in the day.

Men’s singles ended for the day with the upset of world #13 Marc Zwiebler by 2013 World Junior Champion Heo Kwang Hee (pictured).  Heo reached his first Superseries quarter-final just this past spring, at the Australian Open and this time, he bounced back from a narrow loss in the first game to dominate the next two, using solid defense to wait for the lifts and punish them, particularly with some devastating cross-court smashes late in the decider.

“Recently, I have had so many first and second round exits,” said Heo after his victory, “but this time playing in Korea, in front of Korean supporters, I was really motivated to play well and do well for the crowd and I think that is really why things turned out in my favour.

“Marc Zwiebler really moves well in the front court and I knew I had to be ready to counter that.  As the match went on, I found I had to keep moving fast to keep the opportunities coming and I found I was able to find the spaces opening up and to direct my attacks there.

“I have been working recently on my net play and that practice has helped me to manage rallies better.  I have never played Qiao Bin before so I’ll have to analyse some videos prepare well.  With lots of support from the crowd, I hope that will give me the strength I need tomorrow.”

Europeans were involved in the mixed doubles upsets as well.  Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and Kim Astrup may have lost as a pair in men’s doubles but each prevailed in mixed on Thursday, with Rasmussen in particular, pairing up with Sara Thygesen (pictured) to send 7th-seeded Kenta Kazuno / Ayane Kurihara packing.

Before that, Superseries Finals winners Chris and Gabrielle Adcock were stunned by the brand new pairing of Chung Eui Seok and Yoo Hae Won (pictured bottom).  Chung won the World Junior boys’ doubles title back in 2007, when the Adcocks made their appearance as the first European finalists in 15 years, but he has been very scarce on the international scene ever since so this quarter-final achievement is a surprise he will hope to savour as he and Yoo take on Hong Kong’s Lee/Chau on Friday.

Click here for complete Thursday 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