KOREA MASTERS Finals – Firsts, seconds, thirds and a doubles double

Seo Seung Jae is the one with the doubles double but two shuttlers won first ever Grand Prix Gold titles, while two others won again at the Korea Masters after […]

Seo Seung Jae is the one with the doubles double but two shuttlers won first ever Gold titles, while two others won again at the after titling the last time Gwangju hosted top flight international badminton.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Gwangju.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

In badminton terms, the metropolis of Gwangju has been somewhat overshadowed by its mostly rural neighbour Hwasun, home of Lee Yong Dae and several other top Korean players.  Yeomju Gymnasium, the venue for the 2017 Korea Masters, was the site of the 2012 World University Badminton Championships, but the winner of the doubles double at that event, Kim Gi Jung – and his mixed partner Kim So Yeong, both came up short on finals day at this Grand Prix Gold event.

But in sporting terms, Gwangju is known as the host of the 2015 Universiade, although that multi-sport event’s badminton matches were actually played in Hwasun.  Both the men’s singles and women’s doubles gold medallists from 2015 again ascended the podium on Sunday as Jeon Hyeok Jin (pictured right) and Lee So Hee took second ‘Gwangju titles’, while Shin Seung Chan added one to her 2015 doubles double.

Not only were Shin Seung Chan and Lee So Hee (pictured below) were the only finalists who will be heading to Finals in just over a week, but unlike Jeon and two of the other players who play for university teams, they have to fill the time between now and Dubai by playing the knockout round of the Korean League.

Lee and Shin left nothing on the court, though.  They weathered a strong surge at the end of their second game against the powerful Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong to take their third title together in a year when each has played with multiple partners.

“Our opponents played really well.  I think it was a good match for us, too, even though they caught us at the end of the second game,” said Shin Seung Chan afterward.

“I felt that I just couldn’t make things work from the beginning to the end of today’s match,” said Lee So Hee.  “My body just didn’t want to move, either.  Fortunately, Seung Chan played well for the entire two games and I think that’s why we won today.”

Explaining the seemingly effortless transition they’ve made from two-year stints with veteran partners, to their reunion this year, Shin said, “Of course, we still are familiar with each other’s game from playing together in the past.  We do both play differently now but it isn’t hard to get used to playing together again.  Both of us have a lot more variety in our strokes now.  When we played together when we were young, we used to just use power most of the time but now we are both able to use a lot more variety.  And of course we both learned a lot from Ye Na and Kyung Eun.”

“When we play our team-mates like this, we always know each other’s game so well from training together.  Who will win usually depends on who is in better condition on that day,” said Lee.

The fact that it was an all-Korean final in no way detracted from the action on display on the court today as it was both a hard-hitting battle and narrowly won contest.

“These days, women’s doubles has so many pairs that are so closely matched that boring, one-sided games are really rare,” said Shin.

“Fortunately, we won’t have to take part in the team tryouts so we will get a chance to rest a bit after Dubai, then once the team is chosen, we’ll be back to prepare for next year’s tournaments.”

In fact, the women’s doubles title at this event has been won by at least one of these two ladies for the past four years, starting in 2014, when Shin won her first major titles (she took the mixed doubles the same year) at what was then a mere Grand Prix event.

“We won the title in 2014 but we didn’t have to play the finals because of the walkovers.  At the time, I really wanted to play the finals and win so this time it feels better to actually play and win the title,” said Shin Seung Chan.

“It was her first title but it was a walkover so it doesn’t really count,” chuckled Lee So Hee, who had won her own first title at the Canada Open Grand Prix a few months earlier.

Seo’s first doubles double

In no fewer than 6 of the last 7 editions of Korea’s late-season event, someone has come away with the doubles double.  It all started with the mixed triple by Yoo Yeon Seong and Chang Ye Na in 2011.  In 2012, it was Eom Hye won, then Chang again in 2013, then Shin in 2014 and Ko Sung Hyun last year.

For 2017, the player who came aways with both the mixed and men’s doubles titles was 20-year-old Seo Seung Jae (pictured).  Both his men’s doubles partner Kim Won Ho and Kim’s mixed partner Shin Seung Chan were still in the running as of Saturday, when they lost their semi-final to top seeds Choi Sol Gyu and Chae Yoo Jung.

For Choi, it was his return match after he was injured early in the Korea Open Superseries back in September.  He made an impressive comeback after nearly 3 months of recuperating, displaying some some high-flying badminton, but in the end it was defending champion Kim Ha Na who extended her Korea Masters streak to 3 consecutive years.

It was her first with Seo Seung Jae, but certainly not her first Grand Prix Gold title.  The new pair has reached the final of all four such events they entered this year, beginning with the Chinese Taipei Open, and won all but the Macau title.

In men’s doubles, Seo was back on court to see to it that his 18-year-old partner Kim Won Ho would win at least one title, his first at the Grand Prix Gold level after he had taken a Grand Prix in mixed in July.  The two beat former world #2 Kim Gi Jung and Kim’s new partner Jung Jae Wook (pictured bottom).  Kim will soon be team-mates of his two Sunday opponents for domestic events but Jung will also be trying out for the national team later in December.

First ever for Gao

Before Kim Won Ho celebrated his career first Grand Prix Gold title, China’s Gao Fangjie (pictured) made the Korea Masters her first ever international title at any level.  Even as a junior this ace did not top a podium but now at 19, she has already been a Superseries runner-up as well as a Grand Prix Gold winner.

Gao looked to be struggling in her first game against last year’s runner-up Lee Jang Mi but from 15-19 down, she blasted through a 6-point run that left Lee bewildered.  Unfortunately for the Korean, things went from bad to worse in the second game, where she seemed totally at sea as the Chinese youngster stormed to victory 21-5.

In men’s singles, Jeon Hyeok Jin finally put an end to the rout of Korea’s top players but their veteran understudy Kim Min Ki.  While a member of the national team, Kim has had few chances to play big tournaments abroad and is ranked a lowly 564th in the world.

That didn’t stop him from disposing of world #2 Son Wan Ho and #36 Lee Dong Keun, one- and three-time champions at this event respectively.  The party stopped at Jeon Hyeok Jin, however.

It didn’t stop right away, though.  Kim was always threatening in the opening game and maintained the edge to even up the match by taking the second.  He stayed close in the decider until Jeon Hyeok Jin opened it up after the interval and eventually won it 21-12.

“This is the second time I’ve won a title in an event hosted by Gwangju,” said Jeon Hyeok Jin after the match.  “The matches the first time were played in Hwasun but it was the Gwangju Universiade and I already have good memories of winning here so to win again feels even better.

“I felt I was the favourite to win, playing against a team-mate, and I was a little nervous, plus the match went to three games.  Min Ki plays a good attacking game and can be dangerous when he keeps pushing forward.  I was glad that I was able to keep a slight lead at the end of the match.  I think I did well at drive exchanges today, where I was able to keep putting pressure on him.”

Jeon’s big year was 2015, when he won the Universiade gold and reached two semi-finals and a final at the Grand Prix Gold level before capping it off by winning the Macau Open.  This is his first title since then, although in 2016 he was runner-up at the Australian Open Superseries.

“After winning Macau, especially this year, I’ve had so many tournaments where I went out early.  That’s one reason why I really wanted to do well here and since I reached the final and won it, I hope this is a good step-off point for performing well next year.

“I think any time I reach the final, it feels so good, especially compared to going out in the quarter-finals or earlier.  The Australian Open was a Superseries too, so being runner-up there or winning these two Grand Prix Gold titles, they both feel really, really good.”

Jeon thus became only the second Korean of either gender to win a senior, international, non- singles title this year.  The only other title was by Park Sung Min at the Mongolian International Series.

Final results
XD:  Seo Seung Jae / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [4] beat Choi Sol Gyu / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [1]  17-21, 21-13, 21-18
WS:  Gao Fangjie (CHN) beat Lee Jang Mi (KOR) [5] 21-19, 21-5
WD:  Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) beat Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR)  21-18, 23-21
MS:  Jeon Hyeok Jin (KOR) [4] beat Kim Min Ki (KOR)  21-17, 19-21, 21-12
MD:  Kim Won Ho / Seo Seung Jae (KOR) beat Jung Jae Wook / Kim Gi Jung (KOR)  21-15, 21-16

Click here for complete results

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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