KOREA OPEN 2016 Finals – Swan song success for Lee Yong Dae

In his last match in international badminton, Lee Yong Dae took his 8th Korea Open title as he and Yoo Yeon Seong came back to win a thriller against Chinese […]

In his last match in international badminton, took his 8th title as he and Yoo Yeon Seong came back to win a thriller against Chinese youngsters Li/Liu.

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

World #1 Lee Yong Dae chose the 2016 Korea Open to be the last tournament of his long, illustrious international badminton career.  He has made it clear that he will continue to play in domestic events and professional leagues but it is in international ranking events that he has been such a major presence, ever since his first Grand Prix victory over 10 years ago as a 17-year-old.

Today in Seongnam, Lee seemed to be pushed harder than in any of his previous seven Korea Open victories.  He and partner Yoo Yeon Seong faced China’s twin towers Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, who spent last two weeks beating former world #1s and Olympic silver medallists as practice for today’s showdown with the top seeds.

The match started off close but the Chinese youngsters pulled away from the favourites after the first game interval and never looked back.  The Koreans kept it closer in the second game but still only barely managed to eke out a 22-20 result to tie up the match before making a push in the decider that earned them four match points, the third of which proved to be the magical one.

“Today was such a difficult match that it was really great to play it in front of so many fans,” said Lee Yong Dae after the match.  “We were under pressure in the drive game but in the second game, we were able to work it out and going into the third game, we had the confidence that we would be able to win it.”

“We didn’t really have our rhythm in the first game, and it wasn’t until the decider, that we were finally able to open up a margin,” said Yoo Yeon Seong.  “I kept thinking that this was our last match together and I didn’t want to leave with any regrets.  We played hard until the end and I think we were lucky to finish with a victory.”

Asked what he would like to say to his fans after this final match, Lee Yong Dae said, “This is my last match in international badminton and I am so happy to have won.  In a match like today, when I’m on the verge of losing in the second game, a lot of thoughts go through my mind and I think how disappointing it would be to lose like that.  With so many people having come to the hall to watch the match, I really feel like I cannot give up and that is how I’m able to fight hard to the end and turn around a tough match like today’s.

“I just want to say how much I appreciate the way so many people have come out and supported me all these years and especially the cheers that have helped me on days like today.  In the future as well, as I’ll still be competing in various other tournaments, I would really be glad to continue to get your support.

“I don’t regret anything about today’s match.  These opponents we played are always capable of playing a tough game and the fact that we were able to turn it around and win was really a result of our being able to play the game that brought us to be the world #1 pair.

“I think we were able to win because we’ve been in situations like this before and have figured out how to get out of them.  Rather than being frustrated with the match, what I feel is that Yeon Seong and I were able to work hard and produce a victory.”

Asked to compare this victory to his other 7 Korea Open title performances, Lee said, “I think the best thing about today was the fans.  The support we got really made me really want to play hard until the end and not give up.  I think the fact that I’ve been able to get good results at the Korea Open has somehow made my life easier and it’s really the support from the fans that has enabled me to do it.”

As he is the only member of this amazing pair who will be continuing to play in international competition after today, Yoo Yeon Seong spoke of what he would most like to accomplish in his next phase as a player: “ success is something I have been able to experience but as for the major, top tournaments, I have won silver medals but still no gold.  I haven’t given up yet.  I wouldn’t say I’ve failed because I still have an opportunity.  For sure – well, I guess it’s a little difficult to say ‘for sure’ – but I definitely will give it my best shot to get gold at a major event.”

Each player was asked what he would like to say to his partner after their last match together and Yoo replied: “I do feel that in these three years, Yong Dae has had a lot to put up with and he’s had it pretty tough.  He’s tried to offer advice and there have been some good things and bad things but we’ve had some misunderstandings but I think things have worked out and I appreciate what we’ve done together and I’d like to encourage him to relax and enjoy his .”

“Yeon Seong has been my partner for three years and for two of those, we’ve been ranked #1 in the world and I feel playing with him has been really helpful,” said Lee Yong Dae.  “Being able to rely on having him behind me has made it possible for me to play as well as I have at the front court and in defense.

“I know Yeon Seong has had his disappointments but on the other hand, we’ve been the runners-up at some big tournaments and we’ve won a lot of Superseries titles together.  Overall, the last three years playing with Yeon Seong, in tournaments and in training, have been happy ones and I’d like him to know how grateful I am for that and I wish him more success in the future.”

Lee retires ‘at 43’

Lee Yong Dae retires from international competition with a grand total of 43 Superseries titles, including 37 in men’s doubles and 6 in mixed, all with Lee Hyo Jung, with whom he also won the Olympic gold in Beijing, shortly before his 20th birthday.  His Superseries total puts him second in the list of all-time winners, behind Lee Chong Wei’s 44 and just ahead of China’s Zhao Yunlei and Yu Yang, who have won 42 each.

Lee also won men’s doubles silver once at the Asian Games, with Yoo, as well as three World Championship silvers – one with Yoo and two with Jung Jae Sung.  He reached world #1 with three different men’s doubles partners and one mixed partner and also has a collection of both Grand Prix and continental titles.

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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