SUDIRMAN CUP Final – And the Cup goes to Ch-Ch-Chae & Choi

Korea shall remember the Gold Coast for other than sand and sunshine.  Chae Yoo Jung and Choi Sol Gyu converted Korea’s 8th final across four calendar decades and ended China’s […]

Korea shall remember the Gold Coast for other than sand and sunshine.  Chae Yoo Jung and Choi Sol Gyu converted Korea’s 8th final across four calendar decades and ended China’s 6-title streak at the 2017 .

By Aaron Wong, Badzine Correspondent live in Gold Coast.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Who’d have thought Korea would win this year?  They surprised themselves too.

Starting credentials

Against the odds of having none of their Olympic/World Champion or world #1 (current, past, or recent) stars in men’s singles and doubles and mixed featuring in the final, Korea managed to lift the Sudirman Cup for a fourth time, 14 years after the previous occasion in the Netherlands.  Furthermore, Chae/Choi, who were drawn for the fifth fixture of the final, had suffered two preceding defeats.

China, on the other hand, saddled up men’s singles and doubles Rio Olympic gold medallists for the final and rode to victory in those disciplines with performances that were a class above.  Their women’s doubles held a huge psychological advantage in head-to-head records.  And, so far this year the mixed representatives hitherto had only lost twice and neither were to non-Chinese opponents.

Farewell Fu

The might and potential of Korea’s fresh men’s formation Seo Seung Jae / Choi Sol Gyu (pictured above) were neutralised by China’s Zhang Nan / Fu Haifeng (pictured left), 21-14, 21-15.  Fu sank to the floor wrapped in a mixture of emotions right after match point in his last international competitive appearance.

Both sides constructed mid-court smash opportunities but it was Zhang Nan who ended rallies from that position.  Defence from the Chinese, who each earned Olympic gold in London and Rio, was impenetrable.  Being superior in all departments indicated early on the natural conclusion.

With equal dexterity, both Chinese players produced one of the most difficult techniques in badminton, quarter-court to quarter-court pushes that were outright winners while their opponents were side-by-side and within reach of replies.

If this men’s doubles performance were a piece of music, Fu/Zhang’s rendering contained accents and pauses suffused into the melody.  Watch their hands for finesse.  Watch their feet.  There was knowledge of what kind of balance creates an effective shot as it is not completely in the hands every time.

Fu was deceptive at the net because he knew when reducing his momentum to stillness would impart perfection on shuttles.  It was as if his muscles did this thinking rather than forcing him to mentally deliberate to fake a move.  The virtuosity in the strokes of these badminton living legends cut around the need for much strategising to win this match.

He in her debut, Sung for Korea

Sung Ji Hyun (pictured right) becomes the only Korean lady to have won women’s singles in any of the nation’s eight Sudirman Cup finals.  Her coach – the former world #2 Kim Ji Hyun – sitting behind giving advice was the first Korean to defeat a Chinese lady at singles in the of the Sudirman, and helped Sung become the second.

Sung Ji Hyun, making her fifth appearance in women’s singles for Korea, was far more at ease on court than China’s He Bingjiao (pictured left), who was debuting in the final.  Sung’s textbook strokes contrasted with He’s lovely slice technique on shuttles.  However, the Chinese was the one struggling to find foot speed to run down net shots.

He designed play which was too constant and lower than that of the other aggressive/deceptive players – Tai Tzu Ying and Ratchanok Intanon – the Korean had met earlier in the week.  In other words, the Chinese was not asking an overwhelming pace of Sung like Akane Yamaguchi did of Sun Yu.

In the second game, there were glimpses of He Bingjiao’s smash-and-net-rush style.  In a contest that was typical versus atypical, Sung comfortably fulfilled her duty, 21-12, 21-16.

Not the world #1

So it wasn’t the world #1 playing the World and Olympic champion.  Was this the centre piece of an elaborate ruse?  Had Son Wan Ho woken up ill?  Or, is it to groom the likeable 2016 Australian runner-up Jeon Hyeok Jin for bigger things? It could be all three reasons and utterly beguiling by not enquiring further.

Jeon participated in long, patient rallies and was holding ground fine at defending early smashes but any shuttles less than three-quarter-court were dealt with swiftly by Chen Long (pictured right), whose world ranking had dropped to #12.  Chen’s jump smash angle produced unbelievable inch perfection on his winners, both down the line and cross court.  The world #41 Korean ran out of creativity in the second game and attempted tighter net shots that failed to go across, yielding a second tie point to the defending champions China, as Chen prevailed 21-10, 21-10.

I’ve been thinking about you

Technically speaking, there wasn’t an upset in women’s doubles when world #3 champions Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (pictured below) beat world #4 Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan, 21-19, 21-13.  But, in terms of pride, it was one because the Koreans exacted revenge for six consecutive losses to this Chinese pair in 2016.

The familiarity among the ladies was apparent with the Koreans wary of Jia’s lethal left-handed smashing and Chen anticipating Chang’s movements at the net area.

Eventually, what the Chinese did to world #1 Japanese the night before was visited upon themselves.  Lee So Hee learnt to hit the shuttle that little bit further out of range of where she knew her opponent was anticipating.  Having played each other in mixed doubles and women’s doubles, Chang Ye Na was effective at the net by being one step ahead of Chen Qingchen’s now usual combination of shots.

There wasn’t quite the 2010 Uber Cup level of stress apparent about Chen/Jia but there were signs of worry infiltrating their minds, compared to the Koreans, who remained focused – smiling even – when their seven-point lead withered to nought in the first game.

Predecessors’ reunion

Ra Kyung Min / Kim Dong Moon came out on top of Gao Ling / Zhang Jun at Korea’s last Sudirman victory in 2003.  All four attended the 2017 Cup, where Korea once again topped and needed mixed doubles.  A major difference here was that in 2003, not only did Ra and Kim start the tie off with their convincing victory, but they were the ones on an impossible winning streak, not having lost a match in nearly two years.  This year, it was China fielding the pair on a hot streak as Lu Kai and Huang Yaqiong had reached the finals of all six events they’d entered this year and won four of them.

Play got off to a blistering start when Korea’s Chae Yoo Jung / Choi Sol Gyu (pictured below) instigated thick and fast drive shot battles.  Choi’s solid limbs were built for this particular style.  No strangers to playing opponents who start on a high, Huang Yaqiong / Lu Kai drew level in the first game shortly after the interval.

The Koreans remained relentless and on game point Choi Sol Gyu (pictured above) noticed Lu’s racquet position, then made the smart choice to hit a drive at head level instead of downwards.  Next was an easy put away and Korea took it 21-17 to go one game up.

13-8 in the second game was the best rally of the match: Huang was tested in her defence by Chae and Choi in tandem.  In the midst of the onslaught, Lu’s defence reflexes amazingly picked up a near impossible net kill, but – even luckier for Korea – the rally ended when Choi’s smash hit the net cord and rolled over onto Chinese territory.  Any errors were largely forced ones among the pairs.

Up 15-10 in the second and one game under his belt supplied Choi Sol Gyu the adrenalin for millisecond faster reactions.  Sensing the unbelievable at 19-12, the Korean coaches held their heads in their hands.  Chae/Choi beat the best mixed pair in the world, 21-13, and their teammates swarmed centre court.

Final result: Korea 3, China 2
MD:  Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (KOR) lost to Fu Haifeng / Zhang Nan (CHN)  14-21, 15-21
WS:  Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) beat He Bingjiao (CHN)  21-12, 21-16
MS:  Jeon Hyeok Jin (KOR) lost to Chen Long (CHN)  10-21, 10-21
WD:  Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (KOR) beat Chen Qingchen / Jia Yifan (CHN)  21-19, 21-13
XD:  Choi Sol Gyu / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) beat Lu Kai / Huang Yaqiong (CHN)  21-17, 21-13

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Aaron Wong

About Aaron Wong

Aaron Wong only ever coveted badminton's coolest shot - a reverse backhand clear. He is renowned for two other things: 1) Writing tournament previews that adjust the focus between the panorama of the sport's progress, down to the microscopic level of explaining the striking characteristics of players; 2) Dozing off during men's doubles at the London Olympic Games. Contact him at: aaron @ badzine.net