KOREA OPEN Preview – The gang’s … mostly here!

World Championship, SEA Games, and Universiade gold medallists are due in Seoul next week, along with most of the defending champions for the last edition of the Korea Open as […]

World Championship, SEA Games, and Universiade gold medallists are due in Seoul next week, along with most of the defending champions for the last edition of the as a .

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

The last half of the last season of the current 12-event Superseries begins next week with the 26th edition of the Korea Open.  The 11th running of this tournament as a Superseries is also the first without 8-time winner and last year’s champion Lee Yong Dae (pictured here from 2007, with Jung Jae Sung).  Lee reached finals in all but one of the previous ten editions, failed to title only twice, and on 4 occasions, accounted for the home team’s only gold.

With Lee and 4 other men’s doubles stars having left international badminton, talk over the past year has been about the changing of the guard but last year’s Korea Open already brought some very encouraging new developments.  It was the first time in the event’s history that Korea had a finalist in all five disciplines, making Korea the only nation other than China to do that at a Superseries.

Granted, the 2016 Korea Open field was weakened somewhat by retirements and post-Rio hiatuses but still no fewer than 3 of the runners-up have since ascended to world #1.  This year promises to again showcase some alternative talents, not necessarily those who medalled at the recent World Championships.

Try to remember the two in September

In fact, September’s two Superseries events have always suffered from post-Olympic or World Championship hangovers.  Since Korea took over the slot from the China Masters, however, it has had some mitigating factors.  In 2015, almost every Superseries was well attended because of the hunt for qualification points for the Olympics.

Last year saw the usual rash of post-Olympic retirements but some of the key ones were Koreans who were still motivated to shine locally.  Also, China in particular had some key non-Olympians who were just in the process of moving up the rankings and September’s Superseries resumption was part of the surge for, among others, current world #1 mixed pair Zheng Siwei / Chen Qingchen (pictured).

This year, it’s been just a two-week break since the Worlds but there is also a convergence.  Several top players from Korea, Thailand, and Chinese Taipei and elsewhere are coming back from the Universiade or SEA Games and will be keen to pick up points.  And as we’ll see below, men’s doubles and singles will have an even broader reach, bringing in key veterans that saw little or no action in August at all.

Men’s doubles – Two-time champions to headline

It is anybody’s guess whether four-time mixed doubles champion Zhang Nan will appear with his partner Liu Cheng.  The pair were the surprise winners of the world title in Glasgow last weekend and the pair they defeated in the final has already withdrawn from this week’s Vietnam Open.

What is certain is that if they make the trip to Seoul they will find their performance in Scotland a tough act to follow.  Their opener will be against Thailand’s Kittinupong Kedren / Dechapol Puavaranukroh (pictured), who were working on a SEA Games gold while the Chinese were celebrating their World Championship victory.  The Thais took Liu and Zhang to three games in Birmingham but they are now riding high off their first major senior title.

Top seeds will be 2009 and 2014 winners Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen (pictured left).  One of the hardest-working and most dependable pairs on the circuit, they have a tough opener against Berry Angriawan / Hardianto, who won the Malaysia Masters and gave the Danes three tough games in Jakarta in June.

Along with them in the top half of the are several other veterans who are coming off layoffs of one to several months.  Most noteworthy is the only other two-time champion, Yoo Yeon Seong.  He will be making his debut in an international pairing with Malaysia’s Lim Khim Wah.

Another international pairing involving former world #1s, Hendra Setiawan and Tan Boon Heong, will be returning to the circuit for the first time since Australia.  Chen Hung Ling was in action in early August but will resume his partnership in Seoul with new Universiade gold medallist Wang Chi Lin.

First round men’s doubles matches of note:
Liu Cheng / Zhang Nan (CHN) [6] vs. Kittinupong Kedren / Dechapol Puavaranukroh (THA)
Marcus Ellis / Chris Langridge (ENG) vs. Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi (MAS)
Takuro Hoki / Yugo Kobayashi (JPN) vs. Lim Khim Wah (MAS) / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR)

No. 1 Son looks for confirmation title

Korea’s Son Wan Ho (pictured below) is still in the hunt for his first title since becoming world #1.  He has a tricky first round encounter against Huang Yuxiang, who won their only previous encounter.

This year, it will be three-time winner Lee Chong Wei who will first have to deal with defending champion Qiao Bin, who stunned Son in last year’s final.  Meanwhile, Brice Leverdez will get the chance to block a different seed.  He faces Chou Tien Chen, the top ten player against whom the Frenchman has his best record.

Last year, all three Olympic medallists skipped the Korea Open and in 2015, Lee Chong Wei (pictured above), Lin Dan, and Viktor Axelsen all suffered early exits.  This year, the top two Chinese players are absent but Axelsen is the only seeded player who isn’t looking forward to an ominous first round.  The rest are all facing past Superseries finalists or – in the case of Son Wan Ho, Chou Tien Chen, and Lee Hyun Il – players who have troubled them in the past.

Universiade gold medallist Wang Tzu Wei is up against his predecessor in holding that distinction, Jeon Hyeok Jin.  SEA Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie will get another chance to upset 2008 champion Lee Hyun Il in a Superseries encounter.

First round men’s singles matches of note:
Son Wan Ho (KOR) [1] vs. Huang Yuxiang (CHN)
Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [2] vs. Qiao Bin (CHN)
Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [4] vs. Brice Leverdez (FRA)
Kidambi Srikanth (IND) [5] vs. Zhao Junpeng (CHN)
Ng Ka Long (HKG) [6] vs. H. S. Prannoy (IND)
Wang Tzu Wei (TPE) [7] vs. Jeon Hyeok Jin (KOR)
Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (THA) [8] vs. Sameer Verma (IND)
Lee Hyun Il (KOR) vs. Jonatan Christie (INA)

Sung to face the big guns

Two-time champion Sung Ji Hyun will be keen to win back the title she failed to defend last year.  There was nothing easy about her draws when she won the event in 2013 and 2015.  Last year, she beat Tai Tzu Ying (pictured) but failed to maintain her previous edge over Akane Yamaguchi.  In 2017, the women’s singles draw will be the closest to full-strength, with the World Champion, Olympic gold medallist, and the world #1, indeed every member of the world’s top ten except for Sun Yu.

Oddly, though, it seems to be light on tricky first rounds.  Still, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu will have to get past Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi, who was inches away from upsetting the Indian at the Worlds.  Sindhu’s compatriot Saina Nehwal will again pay for her low ranking by having to overcome a seeded opponent in the first round but Ratchanok Intanon is one of the players she has done this to in a Round of 32 this year.

Last year, all three Olympic medallists dropped out of Korea long after the draws were published.  This year, if they show, Nozomi Okuhara and company will still have Sung, Tai, and the rest of a very deep field to get through and make it to the podium.

First round women’s singles matches of note:
Pusarla Venkata Sindhu (IND) [5] vs. Cheung Ngan Yi (HKG)
Lee Jang Mi (KOR) vs. Soniia Cheah (MAS)
Ratchanok Intanon (THA) [7] vs. Saina Nehwal (IND)

Women’s doubles is one of two that will not see an appearance by the reigning World Champions.  Chen Qingchen entered in both disciplines last year, only to have Tang Yuanting pull a surprise retirement on the eve of the tournament.  This year, she and fellow 2016 runner-up Zheng Siwei are back but Jia Yifan isn’t joining her.

On the other hand, all three medallists from the Rio Olympics are in the draw.  Christinna Pedersen is in the opposite position as Chen Qingchen.  With the likely withdrawal of her injured partner Joachim Fischer Nielsen – as well as the recently announced dissolution of their partnership – she can concentrate on her second-seeded women’s partnership with Kamilla Rytter Juhl.  Together they have the best chance at taking the only Korea Open title that has eluded European shuttlers since the tournament began in 1991.

Expect a preponderance of quarter-finalists from Korea, Japan, and/or China.  Even without 2 of their 3 top 10 pairs, the Chinese will be a force to be reckoned with.  The main outside threat apart from the Danes may come from the winner of one first round match in particular.  SEA Games gold medallists Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai of Thailand have to play a repeat of their tight opener last month in Kuala Lumpur against 2015 winner Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu (pictured above), with whom she has already won the Thailand Open title.

Universiade gold medallists Hsu Ya Ching / Wu Ti Jung will have to prove themselves early against Asian Championship runners-up Kim/Yoo.  Korea will be hoping for one of their pairs to break through again.  2016 champions Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (pictured right) are not among the three who have reached major finals so far in 2017 but they are again among the contenders at home.

First round women’s doubles matches of note:
Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (THA) vs. Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (INA)
Kim Hye Rin / Yoo Hae Won (KOR) vs. Hsu Ya Ching / Wu Ti Jung (TPE)

New pairs in the mix

Mixed doubles is the only discipline guaranteed to get a new Korea Open champion.  Granted, defending champion Kim Ha Na is due back but she is yet to contest a Superseries – let alone win such a title – with her new partner Seo Seung Jae (pictured bottom).  The first hurdle they will need to clear is in the form of Glasgow bronze medallists Lee Chun Hei and Chau Hoi Wah (pictured).  Not only are the Hong Kong players coming off a great performance at the Worlds, but they also have won in Korea before, taking the Asian title in Gimcheon three years ago.

Shadows from this year’s world championship events loom over the mixed doubles event in Seoul.  4th-seeded Praveen Jordan / Debby Susanto will again have to deal with India’s tricky Pranaav Jerry Chopra / Sikki Reddy, who pushed the Indonesians to three tight games in Glasgow last month.  Meanwhile, Korea’s top pair, Choi Sol Gyu / Chae Yoo Jung, will have to find a way to beat Chinese Taipei’s Wang Chi-Lin / Lee Chia Hsin if they want to make an impact at the home Superseries event.  They lost to Wang and Lee both at the Sudirman Cup and in Taipei in July.

Without the World Champions or the current All England winners, top seeds Zheng/Chen are favourites to take their third Superseries title of the year.  Second seeds Chris and Gabrielle Adcock have a much clearer path to the final but they are among the many pairs that has never faced Kim and Seo and this pairing could prove troubling to several of the pairs in their half of the draw.

First round mixed doubles matches of note:
Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG) [8] vs. Seo Seung Jae / Kim Ha Na (KOR)
Choi Sol Gyu / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [7] vs. Wang Chi-Lin / Lee Chia Hsin (TPE)
Praveen Jordan / Debby Susanto (INA) [4] vs. Pranaav Jerry Chopra / Sikki Reddy (IND)

Click here to see the complete draws

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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