WORLD JUNIORS 2016 SF – Underdogs look to thwart Chinese sweep

Korea’s Lee Hong Sub and Lim Su Min dealt China its only defeat on Saturday and stand as one of 4 longshots to block China from sweeping all five titles […]

Korea’s Lee Hong Sub and Lim Su Min dealt China its only defeat on Saturday and stand as one of 4 longshots to block China from sweeping all five titles at the World Championships in Bilbao, Spain.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

The last time any country – in other words, China – swept all five titles at the World Junior Championships was 16 years ago.  That year, the winners included two would-be World Champions and the semi-final stage featured an additional six players who would go on to reach #1 in the world, including Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan, and Markis Kido.

Now China is coming off its second straight title sweep at the Asian Juniors and all five of those champions will be contesting the finals at the World Juniors in Bilbao, Spain on Sunday.  The Chinese were already dominant on semi-finals day, but the only exception came from an upstart Korean boys’ doubles pair.

Lee Dong Sub and Lim Su Min (pictured above) had already established themselves as a dangerous force when they eliminated 2nd-seeded He/Tan in the quarter-finals.  He was the defending champion for the World Juniors, but minus his partner from last year – the already great Zheng Siwei – He will have to be content to try to turn his 2015 silver in mixed doubles into gold in Sunday’s all-Chinese final.

In the semi-finals, Lee/Lim had a more positive start than they had a day earlier, winning the first game against China’s Fan Qiuyue / Ren Xiangyu.  However, they let the Asian Junior bronze medallists get away from them in the second and had to gear up for a decider.

The Koreans got out to a commanding 5-0 lead to start the third game but the couldn’t maintain the cushion.  Still, although the Chinese pair tied the game three times, including at 20-all, they never acquire the lead and all they could do was ensure an exciting 22-20 finish in the Koreans’ favour.

Lee and Lim, the only unseeded finalists, now must face the Asian Junior Champions Zhou Haodong and Han Chengkai (pictured above), who won easily over Thailand’s 3rd-seeded Pakin Kuna-Anuvit / Natthapat Trinkajee in the shortest match of the afternoon.

Zhou is flying high going into the finals, where he will play two matches.  He and Hu Yuxiang didn’t win by such a big margin over Korea’s Park/Kim but they were full of confidence and had no problem lifting continuously to Park Kyung Hoon and daring him to smash hard enough to make them pay.

The end for the giant-killer

Japan’s Natsuki Oie came into her semi-final having beaten both defending champion Goh Jin Wei and Asian Junior bronze medallist Gao Fangjie.  On Saturday, she pushed 3rd seed Pornpawee Chochuwong (pictured) hard but after she blew 4 game points in a row from 20-16 up in the first game, and then failed to convert on another two opportunities, she had her work cut out for her to claw back.

In the second game, she raced out to an 8-2 lead, then lost it, then peeked ahead at 17-14 but Chochuwong had the late surge she needed to take the match in two.  The Thai celebrated prematurely when she was convinced her opponent’s punch clear was out at 20-18 but the call went against her and she kept her focus and finished the match out on the next rally.

In the other girls’ singles semi-final, Kim Ga Eun just couldn’t cope with second seed Chen Yufei and she lost the rematch of the match that never happened in the Asian Junior semi-finals, when Kim withdrew and gave Chen a pass to the final, which she won.

Now Chen goes into the final having beaten Chochuwong in both their meetings and will attempt to avoid becoming the fifth Asian Junior Champion from China to be unable to win the world girls’ singles title, which hasn’t gone to China since Wang Lin won it in 2007.  She is already only the second Chinese player to reach a World Junior final since Wang beat Bae Yeon Ju in 2007, which is so long ago that both finalists have now retired.

Du goes for two, too

The first final of the day on Sunday may decide which player will win a doubles double.  Zhou Haodong is the favourite in boys’ doubles but 2015 runners-up He Jiting and Du Yue (pictured above) are the top seeds in mixed.

Furthermore, Du and girls’ doubles partner Xu Ya have not lost a game all week.  On Saturday, they patiently waited for their chances to attack Dutch and German Junior runners-up Kim/Kim and they trounced the Koreans in straight games.

Japan’s Sayaka Hobara (pictured) is a rookie in her last year of juniors but already she has won three junior titles this year with Nami Matsuyama.  Matsuyama and her former partner had been Du’s toughest opponent before the final last year and the second-seeded Japanese should prove worthy opponents for the Asian Junior Champions.  Japan has yet to win a doubles title at the World Juniors.

Sun stays strong

China’s Sun Feixiang (pictured below) was not impressed with the top-seeded status of Kantaphon Wangcharoen and disposed of the Thai in two quick games.  The last obstacle to the Asian Junior Champion taking the world crown comes in the guise of Indonesian 14th seed Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo.

Dwi Wardoyo continued with the exuberance that had got him to the weekend and he kept up the pressure, playing bold net tumbles right in the face of Malaysia’s 2nd-seeded Lee Zii Jia.  Lee quite calmly crept back up from an early deficit in the second game but his advantage at 18-16 was quickly reversed as the Indonesian blasted off five straight points to secure his place in the final.

Keeping the youngsters in line

The officials have had a very busy week.  Their microphones have stayed on all week as they have kept the play moving and repeatedly reminded players to arrange their belongings in the courtside boxes, but that’s not all.

In the first boys’ doubles semi-final, Lim Su Min salvaged a rally with a behind-the-back shot, then shortly thereafter, punished a short lift with a leaping smash.  When Ren Xiangyu made a desperation return as he tumbled to the floor and the shuttle popped back over the net, the Koreans instantly began to protest and the umpire seemed to hesitate, take the signal from his line judge, then ruled that the shuttle had touched the floor before Ren hit it.

The last match of the day ended with an even more incredible bit of officiating, however.  Lee Zii Jia attempted to save match point with an around-the-head smash that was called in by the line judge, only to have the umpire, who was very close to very fast-moving, flat-travelling shuttle, overrule the call and instantly gift the match to Wardoyo.

Finals line-up
XD:  He Jiting / Du Yue (CHN) [1] vs. Zhou Haodong / Hu Yuxiang (CHN) [7]
WS:  Chen Yufei (CHN) [2] vs. Pornpawee Chochuwong (THA) [3]
MS:  Sun Feixiang (CHN) [5] vs. Chico Aura Dwi Wardoyo (INA) [14]
WD:  Du Yue / Xu Ya (CHN) [1] vs. Sayaka Hobara / Nami Matsuyama (JPN) [2]
MD:  Han Chengkai / Zhou Haodong (CHN) [1] vs. Lee Hong Sub / Lim Su Min (KOR)

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 @