KOREA MASTERS Finals – The power of eonni!

Three ladies at the Gwangju Korea Masters had to bow to their elders – or eonni in Korean – on Sunday as all three doubles finals ended long title droughts. […]

Three ladies at the Gwangju had to bow to their elders – or eonni in Korean – on Sunday as all three doubles finals ended long title droughts.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Gwangju.  Photos: Don Hearn / Badmintonphoto (live)

So much has happened since the last Olympic cycle, particularly as it concerns the finalists at this year’s Gwangju Korea Masters .  Choi Sol Gyu and Eom Hye Won were paired up in 2015, won a couple of major titles together that year, but came up short of qualifying for Rio.  Jung Kyung Eun and Chang Ye Na reached a final in their second tournament together but were split midway through the qualification period and each went to Rio with different partners.  Then of course, Li Xuerui made her way to Rio only to sustain a devastating knee injury there.

All four veteran ladies claimed superiority over their younger compatriots on Sunday, however, and showed they still have the talent and the drive to win.

Chang Ye Na and Jung Kyung Eun first played together internationally at the All England in 2015 and pushed former World Champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang to three games, then reached the final of the Malaysia Open in their next outing.  But that never happened again, not before the partner shuffle later that year and not in the one year since they were paired up again last autumn.

But they have continued to play well and today their seized the opportunity to turn that into a title.  They beat the newly-crowned China Open winners Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan in straight games.

“It’s been a year since we started playing together again and to not only reach the final but to win is just an amazing feeling,” said Jung Kyung Eun.

“We know each other so well from playing and training together so we know what we’re in for,” said Chang Ye Na, of the final against her former partner Lee and Jung’s former partner Shin.

“Today in particular, Kyung Eun played really well and really made up for wherever I was lacking.  Also, the fact that it was in Korea and we got to play another Korean team in front of Korean fans, that makes us all the happier to win.”

Asked whether she would have a party or anything to celebrate, Jung Kyung Eun said mischievously, “That’s a good question.  I don’t know what’s going to happen but I think it would be great if the coach would give us a little vacation.”

Asked why she seemed more exuberant than usual in her on-court celebrations, Jung Kyung Eun said, “Did I?  Perhaps it’s because this is my first final in sooo long.  I was really happy to get those points.

“For a while there, I was thinking, ‘Have I had enough?  Is this it?’ but I worked to get back – well, maybe my condition isn’t quite where it was, but close to where it was and I think it has allowed me to start playing well enough again to win.”

Jung and Chang are now preparing to participate in the team tryouts for the first time in a long time, as their lofty ranking had long meant they had qualified automatically for the team.  But the two ladies refused to speculate on whether the future held visions of the Tokyo Olympics.

“I think I’m just going to focus on the national team tryouts for now.  If I bring my talents to the process, I think I stand a good chance but as for Tokyo, I’m not going to worry about that until afterward.

“Yes, we’re just going to take the challenges in order, whichever one is facing us first, and one at a time,” added Chang Ye Na.

Shin Seung Chan came into finals day with what looked like a good chance at another doubles double but she and Choi Sol Gyu just couldn’t find the right formula against veteran compatriots Ko Sung Hyun and Eom Hye Won.

Actually, it was the rivalry between the two male players in this case that attracted notice as Ko Sung Hyun seemed frustrated by Choi’s raised hand before receiving serve.  The umpire gave both players warnings and actually called Choi on a ‘fault receiver’ for not getting ready.

On a few occasions, Choi severely punished Ko’s attempts at flick and drive serves but in the end, the older duo still kept one step ahead and they took it home in three games.  Ko again confirmed that while he looks forward to more international competition in men’s doubles with Shin Baek Cheol, Eom will still be prevented by BKA rules from joining in (see more here) and will be relegated to domestic events as well as the Indian Premier Badminton League.

“It was really great that so many fans came to see the finals and that always motivates us to perform well.  It also makes me want to keep playing well for the fans,” said Ko Sung Hyun after the match.

Eom Hye Won, meanwhile, denied that her former year-long partnership with Choi Sol Gyu gave her much insight: “I actually don’t think of him as a former partner.  Today, just as an opponent we had to beat.  To be honest, it is so long ago now that we played together.  Everything is a new challenge and we came up with the game plan through discussions with Sung Hyun and our coach.  That’s really how we prepared and approached today’s match.”

For both Eom and Choi, however, today marked their first major international title since they won both a and a Gold title in 2015.  In Eom’s case, it is because she left the national team and has hardly competed since she and Choi failed to qualify for Rio.

As for Choi, he has been performing well but just couldn’t get to the top of the podium, with the exception of the Sudirman Cup, and instead of winning mixed on Sunday in Gwangju, he instead took his first major title in men’s doubles, with last year’s winner Seo Seung Jae.  They held on to beat the scratch from Chinese Taipei of Po Li Wei and current world #4 Wang Chi Lin (pictured below), a man who has given both Koreans a run for their money in both doubles disciplines.

“Wang Chi Lin was not playing with his regular partner so it was clear it was a struggle for him but in any case, he’s a very good player, both in mixed doubles and in men’s doubles,” said Seo Seung Jae afterward.  “He’s always so dangerous when he’s at the back that when he’s attacking, we get tense when we have to defend and it’s hard to play against him.”

“I think it has been about 3 years since I’ve won a big title,” said Choi Sol Gyu.  “I just don’t think I was trying hard enough before but now I’m giving it my all and I think that’s why the results are finally coming.  Plus, this is a home tournament and a lot of people came out to cheer us on so I think that has a lot to do with it, too.”

In the women’s singles, Li Xuerui also beat a younger compatriot but for her it meant her fourth title of the year, after two Super 100s and the U.S. Open Super 300.  She got back at 19-year-old Han Yue (pictured bottom), who had beaten Li in the Syed Modi semi-finals last weekend.

In only a slightly longer match, Korea’s Son Wan Ho won the battle with Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia (pictured below) for who could take their second title of the year.  Lee had won the Chinese Taipei Open in October, while Son was just coming off a title performance at the Hong Kong Open.

“Lee Zii Jia is still young and his skill lacks polish but he has the height and the potential and give it a little while and he could be a fine player,” said Son Wan Ho after the final.

On his upcoming participation in the , Son said: “All the top players are going to be gathered together there.  My goal is to reach the semi-finals but I’m going to prepare well, take it one match at a time, and try to perform well.

“I’ve been in the semi-finals twice already at the Superseries Finals, last year and the year before so I guess this year, I should do better and at least reach the final.”

Final results
MD: Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (KOR) beat Po Li-Wei / Wang Chi-Lin (TPE) [8]  21-12, 17-21, 21-18
WD: Chang Ye Na / Jung Kyung Eun (KOR) [3] beat Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [2]  21-14, 21-17
MS:  Son Wan Ho (KOR) [1] beat Lee Zii Jia (MAS)  21-16, 21-11
WS:  Li Xuerui (CHN) beat Han Yue (CHN) [8]  21-10, 21-18
XD:  Ko Sung Hyun / Eom Hye Won (KOR) beat Choi Sol Gyu / Shin Seung Chan (KOR)  21-12, 15-21, 21-18

Click here for complete 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