U.S. OPEN Finals – Ren takes a World Tour first!

Chinese shuttlers took 3 titles at the U.S. Open on Sunday, including the first for Ren Xiangyu, who became the first teenage boy to win a title in the new […]

Chinese shuttlers took 3 titles at the on Sunday, including the first for Ren Xiangyu, who became the first teenage boy to win a title in the new .

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Chris Do / Badmintonphoto (live)

Last year, Korea’s Kim Won Ho became the last of 4 teenage boys to take a major badminton title but on Sunday in California, he was forced to pass the mantle on to fellow 19-year-old Ren Xiangyu.  Ren and Ou Xuanyi became the third Chinese finalists on the day to bounce back from a game down and take the title.

A year ago, Kim Won Ho was flying high.  He was the youngest member of the Sudirman Cup-winning team and he arrived at the U.S. Open having taken his career-first title at the Canada Open.  He reached the final at the U.S. event but had to wait until his last tournament of the year to win his first Gold title, at 18.  This year, he was back to California with his long-time partner Kang Min Hyuk (pictured right).  The two have been winning junior titles in Korea since 2009 and picked up a few more international junior titles in the past few years.  Since the Korea Masters, one teenage boy had titled, but Guo Xinwa’s mixed doubles victory at the Lingshui Masters was at a Super 100 event which, confusingly, is part of the BWF Tour but not the BWF World Tour.

Ren Xiangyu, meanwhile, was coming from even more obscurity.  He had been a semi-finalist at the Asian Juniors twice and the World Juniors once, starting in 2015, but on the senior circuit, he had had little success before this week.  He and 24-year-old Ou Xuanyi (pictured right) didn’t make much of an impact in the first game of the men’s doubles final, either, letting the Koreans dictate the pace and trying in vain to defend against the two youngsters’ steep smashes.

All changed in the second game, however, as Ren really took charge of the front court and the Chinese repeatedly forced the Koreans to lift first, then made the most of their attacking opportunities.  For a while, it seemed that Kang and Kim’s defense was up to the task but the Chinese were relentless and consistent and seemed to control every rally from right off the serve.

The Koreans looked to be mounting a bit of a comeback from 14-19 down in the decider but Ren and Ou soon nipped that in the bud and claimed what was the first major title for either player.  A few months before his 20th birthday, Ren Xiangyu thus became the first teenage boy to win on the BWF World Tour.  Interestingly, this was not the first meeting between these two unfamiliar pairs, as they had played an even closer contest at the Australian Open.  With the upcoming Canada Open featuring most of the same favourites, there is even a chance that they could meet again north of the border, if their respective runs of form continue.

China’s winning ways began early in the afternoon when, to the disappointment of the crowd, Li Xuerui (pictured) saw off 2014 winner Zhang Beiwen.  In fact, the ‘disappointment’ could certainly have been worse.  For one thing, there was a great deal of support for Chinese shuttlers in the hall and Li, the former Olympic champion, was putting her considerable on-court expertise on display in North America for the first time in her career.  Second, the match started off with a gripping opener.

In the semi-finals, it was Zhang Beiwen who erased 6 match points to stay in it and eventually win over defending champion Aya Ohori.  The script didn’t quite reverse on finals day but the tensest moments came when Li Xuerui was erasing 6 game points in Game 1.  However, Li didn’t quite manage the complete reversal and although she earned 3 game points of her own, it was still Zhang who scraped by with the 26-24 win to take a one-game lead.

The relief didn’t last, however.  Li’s shots just got more and more precise as the match continued and Zhang just couldn’t come up with the magic that had given her the edge in the opening game.  Li Xuerui closed out the next two games in short order and added a title to the Super 100 she had won at home in Lingshui.

It was only a matter of time before Tang Jinhua and Yu Xiaohan (pictured bottom) won a title together.  Tang came into the U.S. Open with no fewer than 20 women’s doubles titles at the Grand Prix level or above, while the younger Yu had already racked up 8 of her own and both even had Grand Prix Gold success in mixed doubles as well.

The brand-new Korean pairing of Kim Hye Jeong and Kim So Yeong came out firing and put a lot of pressure on the Chinese.  In the second and third games, however, Tang and Yu found themselves quite comfortable weathering the Korean attacks and they piled the pressure on from their end to control the rallies and close out the match in their favour.

The afternoon began with Korea’s only title on the afternoon.  Lee Dong Keun (pictured above) had three major titles at home but his only success overseas was a Grand Prix title in Mexico.  Still, North America proved to be happy hunting grounds for him once again as his first overseas title in a six-figure prize money tournament came with his three-game win over Mark Caljouw of Belgium.

The only straight-game match of the day was won by Olympic silver medallists Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying (pictured left).  They won decisively over Marvin Emil Seidel / Linda Efler of Germany and took their second Super 300 title of the year.  The Malaysians are marching up the world rankings but this victory should put them just shy of the world’s top 20.

Most of the finalists are now preparing to play in the Canada Open up in Calgary.  The exceptions are Zhang Beiwen and Chan/Goh, who will instead be making their way back across the Pacific for the Malaysia Open tournament.  Mark Caljouw is one of the very few players who is playing Canada, then flying to Asia for the Indonesia Open, although Michelle Li, who had an early exit in Anaheim, is actually slated to go directly from Calgary – where she is the top seed – to Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysia Open.

Final results
MS:  Lee Dong Keun (KOR) beat Mark Caljouw (BEL) [6]  14-21, 21-17, 21-16
WS:  Li Xuerui (CHN) beat Zhang Beiwen (USA) [1]  24-26, 21-15, 21-11
WD:  Tang Jinhua / Yu Xiaohan (CHN) beat Kim Hye Jeong / Kim So Yeong (KOR)  18-21, 21-13, 21-15
XD:  Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS) [5] beat Marvin Emil Seidel / Linda Efler (GER) [4]  21-19, 21-15
MD:  Ou Xuanyi / Ren Xiangyu (CHN) beat Kang Min Hyuk / Kim Won Ho (KOR)  16-21, 21-16, 21-17

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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