SPAIN MASTERS – Seo and Wang take 1 each; Denmark rules singles

Seo Seung Jae and Wang Chi Lin denied each other a doubles double, while Kong Hee Yong won her first ever international title and Denmark locked up both singles finals […]

Seo Seung Jae and Wang Chi Lin denied each other a doubles double, while Kong Hee Yong won her first ever international title and Denmark locked up both singles finals at the .

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Alvaro Diaz / Badmintonphoto (live)

Since the beginning of 2017 in particular, doubles has become increasingly specialized.  Most of the high-profile achievements of the ‘doubles double’ by male players have come from the Korean camp but their 4 most versatile players – Shin Baek Cheol, Ko Sung Hyun, Lee Yong Dae, and Yoo Yeon Seong – had left the scene by then.  Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Denmark have been mostly specialized since the turn of the millennium and the exceptional players who have found success in both mixed and men’s doubles have either since de-emphasized one discipline or have been concentrating on bigger events where winning two titles is far more difficult.

Two exceptions have been Wang Chi Lin and Seo Seung Jae.  Seo won his first doubles double at the end of 2017, at the Korea Masters and was the only male player to achieve it that year.  Then last spring, Wang Chi Lin scored his first doubles double, beating Seo in one of those New Zealand Open finals, and he remained the only player to accomplish that at the level.

On Sunday in Barcelona, quite fittingly, the two men went head-to-head twice in one afternoon.  They have met quite frequently in the last two years and over half of those occasions have been in finals.  In their first encounter, in 2017, Seo won his first ever senior international title with a win in the final over Wang and last year, Wang’s first ever mixed doubles title cam from beating Seo on a Sunday.

Last year in New Zealand, Wang had Seo at something of a disadvantage as the Korean was making his first appearance partnering Chae Yoo Jung.  In Barcelona, the situation was reversed as the Seo/Chae partnership is coming up on a year whereas Wang had reached the final in his debut with Cheng Chi Ya.

The final featured some patient attacking play by Seo Seung Jae, while Chae was much more assertive at the net than she had been in the Koreans’ semi-final against Ellis and Smith.  The Koreans maintained a slight margin throughout the opening game but really opened up the lead against an increasingly beleaguered Chinese Taipei side in the second game and clinched the title in two straight.

In the last match of the day, Wang Chi Lin again appeared with a brand new partner but this time it was former world #7 Lee Yang.  Seo and Kim Won Ho have a lot of experience together but they still only played 6 tournaments together last year and had been apart for over 5 months.

In the opening game the onslaught from the Chinese Taipei pair was relentless and the Koreans had no answer to the constant attacks and they looked sluggish and unprepared as their opponents romped to a 21-8 victory.  In the second, Lee and Wang got caught up in more driving exchanges and Kim Won Ho really came alive with faster movement and better anticipation.  The Koreans surged ahead late in the game to earn 2 game points but the newer pairing managed to regroup and they celebrated their first title together as Kim’s final smash sailed past their back line.

Korea had already picked up a second title by that time, however.  In the women’s doubles, Chinese Taipei Open winners Nami Matsuyama and Chiharu Shida looked unbeatable in their first game as they ran up a 16-7 lead against Kong Hee Yong and Kim So Yeong.  But the Indonesia Masters runners-up suddenly caught fire and scored 8 straight points and the Japanese pair started to look nervous.

The Koreans tied the score but were not able to take the lead until after the Japanese duo had earned a couple of game points.  The Koreans blocked both of these and took their first chance when it came and they had the opening game in had 23-21.

In the second game, the Japanese pair again marched out to an 11-4 lead at the interval but this time, the Koreans never got closer than 3 points away and they had to settle for a decider.  The third game finally saw Kim and Kong take the commanding lead but after they led 11-4 at the interval, it was their opponents’ turn to stage a comeback and they indeed drew to within a point at 16-17.

Late in the third game, the Koreans still seemed to perform solidly but it seemed the points came and went depending on whether Matsuyama and Shida stayed consistent or not.  They took command of the rallies and drew close, then lapsed in concentration and the Koreans managed to put themselves out reach once more.  The final rally saw the Koreans take control and capitalize on the attack.

After Kong slammed the final shuttle to the floor, she broke out in tears and covered her face.  It was 22-year-old’s third major final but it became the first senior international title of her career in a tournament of any level.

Danish singles milestone

The singles finals both belonged to Denmark and had since Saturday, when the Europeans won all four singles semi-finals against Chinese challengers.  While the Danes had their top two singles players in the semis of both men’s and women’s singles, China’s participants in Barcelona came from much further down their bench.  Anders Antonsen and Viktor Axelsen beat China’s #6 and #10 players respectively while it was China’s #4 and #5 in women’s singles who went up against the Danish top two.

It was in women’s singles that the Danish accomplishment was the most significant.  Whoever won would claim the highest-profile women’s singles title for Denmark since Tine Baun’s All England victory in 2013.  Since that time, both Barcelona finalists, Mia Blichfeldt and Line Kjaersfeldt (pictured), have won / Super 100 titles – as did their compatriot Mette Poulsen – and in the autumn, Blichfeldt and Kjaersfeldt took turns as runners-up in Super 300 events.

But this time, it was time for something bigger.  In the end, it was Mia Blichfeldt, who lost the final of this event in early September, winning in two straight to claim the title.

The men’s singles title went to Viktor Axelsen.  He’d had a slightly easier time in the semi-final round, as his opponent Ren Pengbo was forced to withdraw injured during their deciding game.  Both he and Anders Antonsen (pictured) have enjoyed promising starts to 2019.  Axelsen went from semi-final finishes in the Malaysian and Indonesian Super 500 events to victory in Barcelona, while Antonsen’s runner-up finish comes after he won the title at the Indonesia Masters.

While the men’s singles finalists and the women’s doubles runners-up are taking the week off before the All England, all the other finalists from Barcelona will be making their way up to Mulheim for the German Open.

Final results
XD:  Seo Seung Jae / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [3] beat Wang Chi Lin / Cheng Chi Ya (TPE)  21-18, 21-15
MS:  Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [1] beat Anders Antonsen (DEN) [3]  21-14, 21-11
WD:  Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR) [6] beat Nami Matsuyama / Chiharu Shida (JPN) [2]  23-21, 15-21, 21-17
WS:  Mia Blichfeldt (DEN) [2] beat Line Kjaersfeldt (DEN) [4]  21-14, 21-14
MD:  Lee Yang / Wang Chi-Lin (TPE) [5] beat Kim Won Ho / Seo Seung Jae (KOR) [8]  21-8, 23-21

Click here for complete 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