KOREA OPEN 2018 Day 1 – Home mixed pairs make first steps on big stage

Three Korean mixed doubles pairs pushed through to the second round of the Korea Open in their first Super 500 appearance. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seoul Photos: […]

Three Korean mixed doubles pairs pushed through to the second round of the in their first appearance.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seoul
Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto (live)

Mixed doubles was once Korea’s undeniable forte.  At the discipline’s Olympic debut, both pairs in the gold medal match were Korean and since then four Korean pairs have reached the world #1 ranking and racked up countless international titles.

But in 2017 and 2018, Korea had one and then zero mixed pairs, respectively, in the World Championships and the last player to win the Korea Open title, 2016 champion Kim Ha Na, left the national team in June.  Two pairs contested the Asian Games but arrived with virtually no experience against the mixed world’s best.

For the past two weeks, as at the last four Super 500-plus events, there were no Korean mixed pairs at all.  But in the first round of the Korea Open on Tuesday, both pairs from the Asian Games – Choi Sol Gyu / Shin Seung Chan and Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yoo Jung (pictured right)- were present, as were two new pairs, one of them brand new.

The mixed event started with the withdrawal of last year’s women’s doubles champion Huang Yaqiong.  Coming off consecutive mixed doubles titles in the Japan and China Opens, she and Zheng Siwei retired less than halfway through their first game, allowing Hong Kong’s Chang Tak Ching / Ng Wing Yung to proceed to the second round and opening up an opportunity in the top half of the draw.

The road to the final isn’t that wide open, however, as half of last year’s mixed doubles champion pair, Praveen Jordan, together with new partner Melati Daeva Oktavianti, advanced after a close second game with Ou Xuanyi / Tang Jinhua of China.

The first of the Koreans to advance were Kim Hwi Tae and Kim Hye Jeong (pictured below).  They prevailed in two games over former New Zealand Open winners Ronald Alexander / Annisa Saufika of Indonesia.  This was only the 8th tournament to date for the young Koreans, who have managed only a Super 100 quarter-final final in their short partnership.

“I think we moved better than our opponents today,” said Kim Hye Jeong after the match.  “In particular, we managed to move better off the serve than our opponents did and that allowed us to get on the attack.”

“We have practiced a lot and had a lot of discussions,” said Kim Hwi Tae, “but because we haven’t had the chance to play any big tournaments we have played some smaller events and talked over our strategy so now that we have made it to the second round, it has given us a lot of confidence.

“We see this as a really good opportunity since this is our first time playing together in a tournament of this stature.”

“I feel a little more used to women’s doubles, it’s true,” said Kim Hye Jeong.  “but after this tournament, we’ll go back to the training centre and work on what we’ve learned and then be ready for the next time we get the chance to play a big event again.  For now, it’s possible for us to compete in mixed doubles quite comfortably.”

“At first, we were pretty nervous playing against a pair ranked so high above us and we made a lot of errors,” added Kim Hwi Tae, “but we kept at it and got over it and later in the match, we were able to relax and play more comfortably.”

“Playing in Korea, we were really helped by hearing the fans cheering for us, which is not what we’re accustomed to, playing abroad,” said Kim Hye Jeong.  “There were a lot more fans this time than on the first day of the Korea Open in the past and it kind of surprised us, even though it is Chuseok.”

Nor was the cheering to end there.  Shortly afterward, Seo Seung Jae and Chae Yoo Jung – who were the first Koreans to title at a major event in 2018 when they captured the Australian Open in the spring – shut down China’s Ren/Cao in straight games.

Then 2017 semi-finalists Marvin Emil Seidel / Linda Efler became the first ever opponents for the brand-new pairing of Kim Won Ho and Baek Ha Na (pictured above).  Kim had partnered Baek’s former women’s doubles partner Lee Yu Rim until the latter sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury in June.

The two teenagers bounced back from dropping the first game to dominate the seconds and held on in the decider to see off the German pair.  Germany lost its other hopefuls as well, as Mark Lamsfuss / Isabel Herttrich could not handle 7th-seeded Yuta Watanabe / Arisa Higashino (pictured left) of Japan.  The only Korean mixed pairs to lose so far were both beaten by Thai opponents, including Choi Sol Gyu and Shin Seung Chan, who lost in 3 against former Swiss Open champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured bottom).

Mixed doubles was the only one of the five disciplines to have first-round matches on Tuesday and the four pairs who won qualifying rounds earlier in the day will play their Round-of-32 contests first thing Wednesday morning.  With the departure of the two German pairs, the only Europeans left in mixed also happen to be the two highest seeds remaining.  Christiansen/Pedersen won their first round match while the 3rd-seeded Adcocks of England play one of the qualifiers on Wednesday.

Click here for complete Day 1 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 @ badzine.net