MACAU OPEN SF – Korean veterans converge

A quintet of Korean veterans are back from retirement and into the finals of the Macau Open, including past champions Lee Hyun Il and Shin Baek Cheol / Ko Sung […]

A quintet of Korean veterans are back from retirement and into the finals of the , including past champions Lee Hyun Il and Shin Baek Cheol / Ko Sung Hyun.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Jane Piyatat / Badmintonphoto (live)

Just week after Korean badminton fans saw their first finalist of the year in a -equivalent tournament, the Macau Open has produced an all-Korean men’s doubles final and the chance at two titles for the struggling badminton powerhouse.  Doing the honours this time, it is their independent veteran players, all of whom have ‘retired’ at least once.

The man who holds the record as the oldest Gold singles winner and the oldest Superseries singles finalist, Lee Hyun Il (pictured), may also hold the record for the most retirements, as he announced his departure from the international scene in 2007, 2008, and 2012.  All three times, he has returned, however, and his latest stint – which began in late 2013 and is marked by his independence from the Korean national team structure – has still produced a very impressive string of successes.

There is no doubt that the 38-year-old Lee is slowing down, but his slow-and-steady pace is still the envy of so many in the race.  Last year, he showed a dip in form after his two Grand Prix Gold titles in 2016 and his first Superseries final in 8 years.  However, he was out for months with an eye injury sustained in the 2017 Malaysia Masters final and he still rebounded to reach the final of the Denmark Open Superseries Premier last autumn.

The Macau Open is his first final of 2018, though.  He won this event back in 2011, when it went toward his qualification for the London Olympics, where he finished fourth.  In fact, this weekend was his first semi-final appearance since Macau last year, when his paths crossed with the comeback run of current World Champion Kento Momota.

In the quarter-finals, Lee Hyun Il had already dealt with Australian Open champion Lu Gaungzu of China.  He saved two match points before emerging the winner in his second straight hour-long match.

Against Japan Masters winner Sitthikom Thammasin, Lee took full advantage of the good end in the second game, forcing the Thai to attack from deep in the back of the court, and his solid defense made his younger opponent impatient and prone to errors.  Lee stepped up the pressure in the deciding game while still finding perfect length on his deep pushes, despite the drift, and opened up a gaping lead that Thammasin was unable to close.

Lee’s opponent in the final will be Australian Open runner-up Zhou Zeqi (pictured above).  The world #100 came through qualifying and knocked off the top seed Ng Ka Long in the quarter-finals, a loss which may cost the Hong Kong player a berth in the .  Zhou picked up the first game against 2015 World Champion Lu Chia Hung – who was playing in his own first major semi-final – and the two players traded a couple of one-sided games before Zhou had his ticket to his second Super 300 final of the year.

Korea men wrap up one title

It has been almost a year since the last time we saw a major event with an all-Korean final in any discipline.  Kim Gi Jung, the only participant in last year’s Korea Masters final, is also the exception to this being a repeat of the 2014 World Championship final.  But the Koreans have been running roughshod over the field in Macau this week.

In the very first round, it was Kim Gi Jung’s former partner Kim Sa Rang who removed the one of the biggest threats at the Macau Open as he and former world #1 Tan Boon Heong ousted French Open winners Han/Zhou.  Later that day, 2015 winners Shin Baek Cheol and Ko Sung Hyun took care of defending champions Wahyu Nayaka Arya Pankaryanira / Ade Yusuf Santoso.

Later, it was the turn of Lee Yong Dae and Kim Gi Jung (pictured above at the Korea Open).  The Spain Masters winners first knocked off the top seeds Chen/Wang in the quarter-finals, then they won a nail-biter against Lu Ching Yao / Yang Po Han of Chinese Taipei, taking the deciding game 25-23, on their third match point opportunity.

Ko and Shin had a smoother path in the semis.  They exacted some payback from another Taiwan pair.  They needed just over half an hour to beat Chang Ko Chi and Lu Chia Pin, who had beaten the Koreans in the final of the Indonesia Super 100 event.

Another shot at the title

Canada’s Michelle Li (pictured above) bounced back from a worrying second game to dominate her decider against Ayumi Mine of Japan.  Li had plenty of success playing against the drift but seemed to struggle when she couldn’t rely on pushing her opponent across the back line.  Despite only barely leading at the end change in the deciding game, Li exhibited much greater consistency with the wind at her back than she had in the second game and she continued to keep her opponent at arm’s length.

Michelle Li is still looking for her first chunk of 7000 points.  Her first ever Grand Prix Gold final was at this very event, back in 2013.  She has won continental titles, Grand Prix titles, and even Commonwealth Games gold and she has beaten World Champions and Olympic gold medallists but has yet to reach a Superseries semi-final and she is still looking for a Super 300 title to supersede the Grand Prix Gold runner-up finals appearances she was unable to convert.

Li’s opponent in the final will be World Junior Championship runner-up Han Yue (pictured right).  The 19-year-old narrowly missed out on finishing her semi-final in straight games.  After saving two game points in each of the first two games but only winning one, she ran away with the decider against Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan Yi and will now play the biggest final of her career so far.

The mixed doubles final will be, as expected, an all-Hong Kong affair.  Top seeds Tang Chun Man and Tse Ying Suet started the year off well with a victory in the Malaysia Masters but now they are struggling to qualify for the World Tour Finals and this final puts them just under 2000 points away from the current #8 in that race.

Tang and Tse will be facing their compatriots Lee Chun Hei and Chau Hoi Wah (pictured bottom), who are in their first final since 2015.  They won comfortably over young Singapore Open semi-finalists Cahyono/Kandow of Indonesia.

The women’s doubles was expected to be yet another all-Japanese final but Malaysia’s Vivian Hoo and new partner Yap Cheng Wen spoiled that particular party.  They prevented Chinese Taipei Open winners Matsuyama/Shida from reaching their sixth final of the year.  The Malaysians are up against Vietnam Open winners Aratama/Watanabe, who are in their second final of 2018.

Finals line-up
XD:  Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet (HKG) [1] vs. Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG) [2]
WS:  Michelle Li (CAN) [1] vs. Han Yue (CHN) [5]
MS:  Lee Hyun Il (KOR) [3] vs. Zhou Zeqi (CHN)
WD:  Misato Aratama / Akane Watanabe (JPN) vs. Vivian Hoo / Yap Cheng Wen (MAS)
MD:  Kim Gi Jung / Lee Yong Dae (KOR) vs. Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR)

Click here for complete semi-final 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