KOREA OPEN 2016 Finals – Qiao’s 1st, Akane’s 2nd, Korea’s 3rd

China’s Qiao Bin took his first Superseries title and Akane Yamaguchi her second as Korea was left with its fourth doubles triple in the history of the Korea Open. By […]

China’s Qiao Bin took his first title and Akane Yamaguchi her second as Korea was left with its fourth doubles triple in the history of the .

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

Even with the absence of current and former world #1s Lee Chong Wei, Chen Long, and Lin Dan, when asked to predict the men’s singles winner of the Korea Open, few would have given the nod to Qiao Bin (pictured).  But Qiao emerged fully from the shadows as he went one better than his runner-up finish this past summer in Chinese Taipei, soundly beating world #8 and home favourite Son Wan Ho to take the first Superseries title of his career.

After a one-sided first game, Qiao inched out to a 19-18 lead in the second before Son scraped by to win in extra points.  The decider was all Qiao, however.  The 24-year-old underdog showed no signs of weariness and seemed to have no trouble getting into position to mount a punishing attack on every short lift.  He ran away with the game and never looked back.

“I was really excited about playing this match and I played well so I am overjoyed about the match, I don’t really know what to say,” said Qiao after winning the final.  “For this event, we have a lot of high quality players participating so I try to learn as much as I can from everything from all the other players but of course, I should name Lin Dan and Chen Long as my role models.”

“It would have been so great if I had won but I just couldn’t get the advantage in the match,” said Son Wan Ho (pictured right, with Qiao) after the match.  “In the third game, my opponent was playing very well and at the same time I started to make too many mistakes.

“It had been a long time, 8 years, since the last time a Korean was in the men’s singles final here so I really wanted to win the title for Korea again after so long but the fact that I couldn’t is one of the many disappointments for me today.”

By the time Son started his match, the hopes of a Korean sweep had already been dashed.  That possibility evaporated with the victory by Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi over two-time defending champion Sung Ji Hyun (pictured below).

Sung, who had only lost once to Yamaguchi in their five previous encounters, found herself on the back foot in the opening game, only barely managing to pull ahead and win at the end, with some spectacular precision play.  After Yamaguchi dictated the second game, Sung looked to have got back the advantage when she was leading 17-15 in the decider but Yamaguchi surged ahead, taking 6 of the next 7 points to seal the victory and take the second Superseries title of her career.

“I think that I was lacking somewhat fitness-wise, and I couldn’t keep up in the latter part of the match so that’s a big disappointment,” said Sung Ji Hyun afterward.  “I felt like I needed a break after the Olympics so it’s unfortunate that the Korea Open was so soon afterward.

“I thought it was great that Korean players reached the finals in all five events.  I’m not sure that added to my pressure to win, though, because first and foremost was my desire to win the title again regardless.  Still, it is disappointing that I couldn’t add a title to the sweep.”

Though the crowd had been thinning somewhat as soon as star player Lee Yong Dae left the arena, the many who remained for the last match were treated to the most dominant performance of the afternoon.  World #3 Jung Kyung Eun and Shin Seung Chan (pictured below) quickly disposed of Superseries Finals champions Luo Ying / Luo Yu to give Korea its third title of the day.

The Koreans’ win was just as one-sided as when they had beaten the Chinese twins in their first encounter, at the Rio Olympics.  That win in August was crucial to the Koreans making it out of a very tricky round-robin group stage and into the knockout round, where they ended up winning the bronze medal.  This weekend, the victory gave them the second Superseries title of their relatively new partnership.

“Of course, we said we wanted to win today but we also told each other that we wanted to enjoy playing the match today, rather than thinking too deeply about it and I think that contributed to our good result,” said Shin Seung Chan after the last final.

“In the qualifying period for the Olympics, we were so focussed on keeping our ranking up and we were under pressure at every tournament.  Now that the Olympics have finished, it’s a lot easier to forget about the ranking and just try to enjoy playing the matches.”

“Of course, after playing the Korea Open so many times, I’m so happy to finally win the title,” said Jung Kyung Eun, “and it feels even better to win a tournament like this at home in Korea.”

“We were surprised that we were able to win so easily,” said Shin.  “These Chinese opponents normally have a very strong attack but today they were playing quite defensively and that worked in our favour.

“The way they were playing today allowed us to maintain the attack and that was definitely to our advantage and may be why were able to win so easily.”

The victory gave Korea its fourth doubles triple in the history of the event.  They did it in the first edition of the Korea Open, back in 1991, then again in 2000 and 2003.

2003 was also actually the last time that a Korean pair had won a Korea Open women’s doubles final.  That was when current national team coaches Lee Kyung Won and Ra Kyung Min beat Danes Jorgensen/Olsen in the final.  Lee won the title again two years later but she and Lee Hyo Jung got a walkover in that final.

“Actually, I didn’t realize it had been so long since a Korean pair had won the women’s doubles title,” said Shin Seung Chan.  “I was already happy to win but hearing that makes me even happier.”

Asked whether she hoped to become a headline pair and give women’s doubles the same popularity in Korea that men’s doubles has enjoyed, Jung Kyung Eun replied, “It’s not really that important for me to become a marquee player for women’s doubles.  Actually, I’m more happy about the fact that Korea was able to send players to all five finals and that we are doing well overall.

“Of course, it would be nice to be reach #1 but at the same time, once you get up there, you have to work hard to stay on top.  If we keep playing the way we are playing and keep posting the results, I wonder if we might just manage to get to #1.

When she was asked to compare the satisfaction of winning a Superseries event at home to earning Olympic bronze, Jung Kyung Eun replied, “For me, Rio was my second time playing in the Olympics, and I haven’t thought about whether it would my last Olympics but still to have won a medal this time has a special meaning for me.”

Shin Seung Chan added, “The medal we won in Rio might have been bronze but it was still a medal we won and that we worked very hard for, much as we did for the title we won today so they are similarly meaningful to me.  You know, they both make me happy.”

The Koreans will now have only a short break before they play the National Sports Festival, a multi-sport event that is the most important item on the domestic badminton calendar.  The Chinese players and the Japanese A team, including Korea Open winner Yamaguchi, will mostly be taking a break until the Superseries resumes in Europe later this month.

Final results
XD:  Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [1] beat Zheng Siwei / Chen Qingchen (CHN) [5] 21-14, 21-19
MD:  Lee Yong Dae Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] beat Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN) [7]  16-21, 22-20, 21-18
WS:  Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) [7] beat Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) [5]  20-22, 21-15, 21-18
MS:  Qiao Bin (CHN) beat Son Wan Ho (KOR) [6]  21-11, 21-23, 21-7
WD:  Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [1] beat Luo Ying / Luo Yu (CHN) [3]  21-13, 21-11

Click here for complete 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