KOREA OPEN 2018 QF – Home team books semis spots early

Korean shuttlers kept their streaks alive as Sung Ji Hyun entered the Korea Open semi-finals for the 7th time and Chae Yoo Jung and Seo Seung Jae reached their first […]

Korean shuttlers kept their streaks alive as Sung Ji Hyun entered the semi-finals for the 7th time and Chae Yoo Jung and Seo Seung Jae reached their first ever semi at this level.

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

Chae Yoo Jung and Seo Seung Jae might have had a rough start against All England champions Arisa Higashino and Yuta Watanabe but they soon got it together and by the end of the match, they were playing like they were favourites.  There was a smallish but vociferous crowd as extra first-tier seating was added as the number of courts was reduced from five to two.

The Japanese pair still had the edge at 16-14 in the opener but the Koreans embarked on a 7-point run to take the one-game lead and the second game was all theirs.

“It feels so good to win against someone I’ve been playing against for so long,” said Seo Seung Jae, who had lost all but two of the seven doubles matches he’d played against Watanabe, going back to early in his junior career.

“Also, I’ve been in quarter-finals 5 or 6 times now and could never get further so it feels great to finally break that trend, playing with Yoo Jung”

“I’m happy and grateful to Seung Jae for this chance to get back into a semi-final after so long,” said Chae Yoo Jung. “I’ll try to tame the gladness from today to get down and concentrate on tomorrow’s match.

“Our opponents have very deceptive racquet motion so if you keep looking at the swing of their racquets, as we were doing in the early part of the match, you keep getting wrong-footed.  So we agreed to concentrate only on the shuttle and where it was going and we were able to get lighter on our feet and move with more fluidity.  I think it worked.”

Their semi-final opponents will be India Open winners Mathias Christiansen and Christinna Pedersen (pictured).  Pedersen in particular has always been a very tough opponent for most Korean players and it will be an uphill battle for the less experienced home favourites.

Seo Seung Jae said, “I’ve played Christinna Pedersen once before.  She is very good at both serving and receiving and she has a good smash.  I think if we can take control of the front and the midcourt and get the shuttle going downward first, we should be have a chance.”

Before the tournament, Chae Yoo Jung had apparently set the semi-finals as her goal and she explained that she hadn’t felt she was ideal condition physically or that she had had adequate training.  As for whether they were now shooting for the title, Seo Seung Jae said, “If you want the title, you need to win all five matches.  Rather than that, I really just want to focus on the match and hand and then on the next one later and if we do that, I think it can still allow us to end up with a good result in the end.

Chae added, “Especially since we’re playing in Korea, there are so many spectators who have come to see us and cheer for us and that makes us really want to finish well at this tournament.”

Sung still hoping for a third title

In the second match on the TV court, Heo Kwang Hee once again got the home hopes up but he could not get the edge back in his second game against Tommy Sugiarto (pictured).  The Indonesian forced a deciding game, then dominated it to leave Korea with no chance of a semi-finalist in a second discipline, after women’s doubles went all to visiting shuttlers as of the end of play Thursday.

Korean Sung Ji Hyun (pictured below) was only 18 when she first reached the final four of the Korea Open, way back in 2010.  She reached the final that year, a feat she has duplicated on three more occasions, winning two of them.

On Friday, she faced Japan’s Sayaka Takahashi for a spot in the Korea Open semis for the 7th time in her career but it is Takahashi who has racked up 5 titles this year, including the Singapore Open .  Still, after a shaky start, Sung managed to maintain the upper hand throughout and she sent Takahashi packing in straight games.

“I knew that Takahashi had been doing well on the Tour so far this year and had won many tournaments so I was a little nervous at the beginning of the match,” said Sung Ji Hyun afterward, “but the wind was a factor in the match and as I felt I was able to control the shuttle well, I started to feel that I could win.

“Times like this on the tour are hard, when we have two weeks and even three weeks of tournaments in a row and we have to pay attention to our fitness.  Of course it is difficult, but on the plus side, this week, I’m playing at home so even if it’s tough, I really feel that I can do it.  It’s really great to hear so many fans cheering for me during the matches.  Particularly for all those who came out to cheer over the Chuseok holidays, I really appreciate it and I hope the fans can continue to support me for two more days.”

Ever since Lee Hyun Il won the men’s title in 2008, Sung Ji Hyun has been the only home singles winner at the Korea Open, even as all three doubles disciplines have had multiple winners and finalists in the same period.  On whether it again puts pressure on her that she is again the last Korean singles player in the competition, Sung said, “There is of course some pressure, but more than that, I’m just happy that I am again close and I have a chance at the title.”

Sung’s opponent will be Zhang Beiwen (pictured) of the United States.  She won in two games over Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour, ending the European singles challenge at this Korea Open.

On her upcoming match, Sung said, “Zhang Beiwen too is a very strong player with a very good attack so I’m really going to have to concentrate on defending well and to be sure that I can get on the offensive first.”

For her part, when asked to comment on the fact that she would be playing the two-time champion in the semi-finals, Zhang Beiwen said, “Oh?  I don’t know,” but after a little chuckle and being reassured, she added, “Of course, Sung Ji Hyun will be playing on her home court, but on the other hand, for me there is no pressure.  Also, I’ve never beaten her before so all I have to do is go in and try my best, and especially with the strong wind, you never know.”

No singles semis dominance

Sugiarto’s win assured Indonesia of one place in the men’s singles final, as Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie (pictured) had already seen off his challenge from Zhao Junpeng, the man responsible for the exit of top seed Viktor Axelsen.

“After the Asian Games, I was a bit tired,” said Christie after his match, “and there was no time to prepare for the last three tournaments.  In Japan and in China, I lost early so today I am happy that in the last tournament of this Asian Tour I reached the semi-finals.

“I feel I have proved myself, but there is more to do, more training to do, as there are many players who are better than me.  I must keep learning.

“If I get a good result here, it’s like a gift for my birthday, which was during the Japan Open.”

Of course, last year’s Korea Open, where he reached his first Superseries final, was similarly close to being a birthday gift.  Unlike that occasion, however, this year will not feature an all-Indonesian men’s singles final as his compatriot Anthony Ginting was beaten by Chou Tien Chen, holding out the possibility of a repeat of the Asian Games gold medal final.

In women’s singles, too, Japan is guaranteed of a spot in the final, as Nozomi Okuhara (pictured) and Akane Yamaguchi beat Saina Nehwal and Gao Fangjie respectively.  However, Sung Ji Hyun had already blocked the possibility of an all-Japanese women’s singles final when she eliminated Sayaka Takahashi.  Japan still has the possibility of setting up all-Japanese finals in men’s and women’s doubles.

Click here for complete quarter-final 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