KOREA OPEN 2018 Day 2 – Lee and Kim fend off the Russian giants

Lee Yong Dae and Kim Gi Jung return to the Korea Open with a big win over two very big Russian veterans. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seoul […]

and Kim Gi Jung return to the with a big win over two very big Russian veterans.

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

In 2016, Lee Yong Dae won the Korea Open title having just declared his intention to retire from international badminton.  At the same event, Kim Gi Jung had a brief outing in mixed doubles in the event at the previous edition of which the former world #2 had been runner-up to Lee and Yoo Yeon Seong.

While Kim kept playing until April 2017 before also leaving the Korean national badminton team, both players were out of international ranking events from then until last month, with the exception of the Korea Masters last December, where Kim was runner-up after beating Lee in the semi-finals.

The two men’s participation in this Korea Open was made possible by a court decision in May where the Seoul High Court ruled that the Badminton Korea Association could no longer block players such as Kim, Lee, and their former team-mate Shin Baek Cheol from competing abroad before turning 31.  Kim and Lee had already taken advantage of the ruling and turned it into a title at the Spain Masters earlier this month, just weeks after Shin and Ko Sung Hyun had won the Vietnam Open under similar circumstances.

In their opener in Seoul this week, Lee and Kim faced towering Russians Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov.  While Kim had won his only two encounters with the Europeans, the last two times they had faced Lee Yong Dae, together with Yoo Yeon Seong, the Koreans were the ones who left disappointed.

“We didn’t really think about the times Ivanov and Sozonov have beaten us,” said Lee Yong Dae after the match.  “I did lose to them twice but we have played so many matches and won so many too.  The important thing is the way we played today and Gi Jung did really well at the net.  It was a difficult match to play but all we can do is focus on playing well ourselves.”

“We haven’t played here in a couple of years and we were a little nervous at first,” Kim Gi Jung said, “but it was only our first match and we managed to get it together and win it in the end so I think we can prepare well for our next match and I am not too worried about the troubles we had today,”.

Lee added, “We had a good tournament in the Spain Masters too but this is very different because the event is being played in our country, at home, and there are lots of our compatriots who have come to cheer for us.  We were actually surprised by how many there were out to see the first round.  We actually felt a little nervous and we thought, ‘Well, we can’t lose this one!’

“It is true that we are playing as independent players for the first time but that isn’t foremost in our minds.  The main thing is that we are playing at home and we are concentrating on playing well to produce a good result in front of home fans.”

“I’ve played on the same team as Yong Dae for many years,” said Kim, “but this is the first time playing with him in such a big tournament so I’m trying to work on the areas where I am lacking so that we can do well here.”

“Gi Jung and I played together for two university events: the World University Badminton Championships and the Universiade,” said Lee Yong Dae, “so we do have that experience playing together but more than that, we were on the same pro team together and on the national team and were top juniors at around the same time so from all that contact we have trained together and we know what each other’s strong and weak points are.  Plus, just the fact that together, we have so much experience in top level badminton players that that makes more of a difference than two tournaments we played together several years ago.

“As you can see, Gi Jung makes plenty of errors but he also hits a lot of winning shots.  He also reads and manages the game well.  As long as we are able to stay in the match, the odd error doesn’t hurt us because we can still rack up the points when Gi Jung hits those winners.

“My results at the Korea Open in the past have mostly been very good so I do have great expectations for this one, too.  Still, we have to play one match at a time but if we keep up our concentration, I think we can hope for a good result.”

“For now, our goal is to keep playing in some big tournaments and keep up our performances and increase our ranking, hopefully to get into the top 8 in the world.

Asked about how they feel about the timing of their return, coming just after Korea’s disastrous medal-less Asiade experience, Lee said, “I know that the performance of the Korean team at the Asian Games was very disappointing and if our return does anything to alleviate the disappointment, then great.  But the team is still in the midst of a generation change and there are still good younger players coming up so things could well be very different once we get to the Tokyo Olympics.

On the difference between competing at the Open as independents versus their time on the national team, Lee said, “I think the biggest difference is that when we were in the national team, there was so much pressure to produce results at the Korea Open.  This time the biggest difference is that we are playing as independents and we don’t have the external pressure that comes from being national team players expected to perform.”

Kim and Lee were both asked how they rate their level compared to current world #1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.  Lee Yong Dae replied, “The top Indonesian players have made so much progress and improved so much since we retired.  They really seem to be at a higher level than we are now.  If we did end up getting the chance to play them, we would do our best and we would consider it to be a great experience but we would be able to play them without the pressure of expectations.

“Now if you compare them now to my level when I was at my peak?  I think I might have been a little bit better, wasn’t I?  I just boast now because I’m 30 now and I’m nowhere near as fast as I once was.

“As for me, I really don’t know,” answered Kim Gi Jung with a chuckle.

Not such a bad day to be a ‘Lee’

Lee Yong Dae’s victory managed to break a rather odd pattern on Wednesday at the Korea Open.  Before he and Kim Gi Jung won, no fewer than 9 players named ‘Lee’ or ‘Li’ – from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Korea – had lost their first round matches.

After Lee Yong Dae, Li Yinhui followed suit in bucking the curse, as she and Du Yue squeezed past Kim Hye Jeong / Kong Hee Yong.  By the time Lee Jhe Huei and Lee Yang (pictured) took to the court to face newly-crowned China Open champions Kim Astrup and Anders Rasmussen, the pattern was no more.

Still, the Danes had their way in the first game but things turned sour partway through the second and they never wrested control of the decider.

After the match, Anders Skaarup Rasmussen denied that there was any extra connectin between the challenge they faced and their victory in Changzhou: “I think we played pretty well in the first game, keeping the momentum going but they raised their level in the next two and we made some unforced errors and that changed the game.  So I think they would have won this match if they played this way, wether we won last week or not.”

“We lost to them the last time we played and I don’t think they changed much,” added Astrup.  “I didn’t think of us as favourites.  It was 50/50 and they took their chance.  They played better than us.”

“Obviously we are happy to be going home now but we really wanted to play a few more matches and we knew the first would be one of the toughest,” said Rasmussen.  “We came prepared and they were better than us today.”

As for Lee and Lee, they will play a replay against Choi Sol Gyu and Seo Seung Jae, the team that began their partnership with an upset of the Chinese Taipei pair in the Sudirman Cup last year.  The Koreans narrowly prevented a deciding game with the two Lees’ compatriots Yang Po Han / Lu Ching Yao by winning their second game 22-20.

Click here for complete Wednesday 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