OSAKA INT’L – Japan leaves 2 titles for Korea, takes the rest

Japanese and Korean B teams clashed in Osaka with some of Korea’s oldest and youngest international competitors winning titles, while Japan held onto 3. Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya […]

Japanese and Korean B teams clashed in Osaka with some of Korea’s oldest and youngest international competitors winning titles, while Japan held onto 3.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya (live in Osaka)

The Osaka was held in the Moriguchi Gymnasium in Osaka from April 3rd to 7th.  Most of the players were there in an effort to get as many ranking points as possible before the start of the Olympic qualification period.

Koki Watanabe follows up on Orléans title

The first final at the 2019 Osaka International Challenge was men’s singles, between Takuma Obayashi and Koki Watanabe.  Watanabe, who won at the recent Orléans Masters in France, is one year older than his high school team-mate.  This final marked their first match in a senior tournament.

Obayashi got out to a good 18-13 lead in the first game and although Watanabe didn’t give up and caught his opponent at 19-all, Obayashi held on to win the first game.  The second game was also close till 17-all, as Watanabe controlled the shuttles to the four corners.  Obayashi wanted to decide his title in 2 games, but despite moving as fast as he could, it was Watanabe who got the second game with 4 consecutive points.

The third game was all at Watanabe’s pace.  The 21-year-old had more stamina and was able to up the pace, while his teenaged opponent was not able to handle the faster pace.  Watanabe won the decider easily 21-7.

“I knew both of us were very tired in the final,” Watanabe said after the match.  “I was not able to keep my feeling strong in the first game because Obayashi played well so I tried to play at my pace, not my opponent’s pace.  I had more stamina than Obayashi in the third game and I had him moving around a lot.  My tactics worked well today.

“I got the title last tournament too.  I want to get more points to become a national A team player as soon as possible.”

Obayashi said, “It was my first final in an international tournament.  I was not able to win in any international tournaments so my expectation in this tournament was to reach semi-final.  I believe I played well this time but I realized in the final that I didn’t have enough experience to get the title yet.  I lost today, but I could notice many important things that I should train in the future.”

Defending champ brings new partner to teen duel

Next up was mixed doubles, between defending champion Kim Won Ho and reigning Asian Junior Champion Guo Xinwa.  Both players, age 19 and 20 respectively, already have Grand Prix/Super 100 titles to their name on the senior circuit but were in Osaka with new partners.

Jeong Na Eun of Korea played against both Guo and his new partner Zhang Shuxian in junior events last year.  In 2018, Kim Won Ho won the title in Osaka with Lee Yu Rim, just a few weeks before she suffered a knee injury that required surgery.  Lee is back on court in domestic events but is not on the 2019 national team.

Jeong, a World Junior Championship semi-finalist, is the newest female member of the Korean national team and this was her first outing for and Kim Won Ho.  China’s Guo pelted some strong smashes at the Korean pair but the Koreans’ patient defense was more than a match for China’s attacking play.  The Korean pair got their first title in their first international tournament 21-17,21-15, also Kim secured his title defense.

“I enjoyed the matches in this tournament,” said Kim Won Ho after the match.  “Our performance, such as service, defense and smashes, worked well so we could manage our pace.  China’s smashes were very fast.  They were not easy to receive but my partner defended well.  Anyway, I’m happy.”

Jeong said, “I was nervous before the final.  As my partner said, the opponents smashed very hard and they were difficult to return.  My partner also could served well and attacked strongly so I could play well.”

First senior title for former World Junior Champion

The third match was women’s doubles, between Rira Kawashima / Saori Ozaki and Sayaka Hobara / Natsuki Sone.  There were no senior national team members this time.  Hobara won a World Junior Championship title in 2016 in Spain but her then-partner Matsuyama got a new partner in another company team and joined the national B team, going on to win a Super 300 title last year.

Hobara, meanwhile, joined Sone to take the first senior international title for either player as they won in their home country in three games.

“We were never able to win against today’s opponents,” Hobara said afterward.  “My previous partner has been posting good results recently so I have been under pressure for a long time.  I was able to focus on my performance and do what I needed to do.  I’m very happy to get my first senior title.”

Sone said, “I’m a backcourt player, so our coach often told me to get more stamina to move a lot.  I was able to kept moving till the end.  We had not been able to get any good results in the last 2 years so this title has given me confidence.  We will do our best on the training and the tournament.”

Korean veterans and 3 new pairs rule in men’s doubles

Korea national team tested three new pairs in this tournament and all of them reached the semi-final stage, along with former World Champions and independent players Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol.

Three other independent Koreans – Yoo Yeon Seong, Kim Duk Young, and Kim Sa Rang (again playing with Tan Boon Heong) – failed to progress but Ko/Shin moved strongly into the final.  Kim Won Ho and Park Kyung Hoon bested Kim and Tan in the quarter-finals but on Saturday, they fell to Kim’s former partner Kang Min Hyuk, now playing with Kim Jae Hwan.

In the fourth final on Sunday, Ko/Shin played a stable game from beginning to end.  While Kang/Kim moved plenty fast, they had less success keeping their shuttles within the lines and away from the net.  Ko/Shin got the title 21-13,21-16 in 32minutes.

Ko told Badzine after match, “I was under pressure before the match because they were up-and-coming players from our former team.  We managed to get a title this time, but I don’t think we can win easily against them in the future.  They can move fast, but their game is not yet stable at this time.  We always discuss our tactics for our next opponents before each match and our performance today was good as usual.  We will keep going.”

“I was also nervous before the final,” added Shin Baek Cheol, “but we played our best.  Our ranking is low so our target is to get into the top 10 by the end of the year.  We are going to participate in the Singapore Open next week.  We will do our best one tournament at a time.”

After the prize ceremony, Kang Min Hyuk said to Badzine, “We’re disappointed with today’s performance.  It was around 40% of our best performance.  We really wanted to get this title very much.  This strong emotion made us unusually erratic.  In my case, my shoulder became stiffer than usual so my smashes went out because I couldn’t keep the angle sharp.  We will play better without too much pressure in our next opportunity in a final.”

Kawakami wins at home

The last match on finals day was women’s singles, between Japan’s Saena Kawakami and Korean Lee Se Yeon.  It was the first time for Lee to reach even an international semi-final.  She had been in the quarter-finals twice in Osaka, but that was before she changed her name from Lee Min Ji.

The Korean was coming off an upset of top-seeded Minatsu Mitani in the semi-final, a result that put her in a final for the first time.  On Sunday, though, Kawakami controlled the shuttles, patiently sending them to all four corners.  Lee moved fast and managed to return the shuttles at the beginning of the match, but Kawakami increased the pace and had the stamina she needed to keep her good lead to the end.  Kawakami won 21-14, 21-10 in front of her friends from her home town Kyoto.

Kawakami said after the match, “I believed I had a chance to win when I could move a lot.  I always make easy mistakes but I did well today at playing patiently.  Also, my tactics, such as cross net shots, worked well.  I’m really happy now.”

Interestingly, Korea’s Head Coach was in Osaka this week, not with the A team players in Malaysia.  After the women’s singles final, singles coach Jang Young Soo told Badzine, “Lee was nervous because it was her first final.  She hasn’t had any good results recently so she might not have confidence but she got a win against the top-seeded player and reached the final in the tournament this time.  We will train harder and come back stronger.”

Final results
MS:  Koki Watanabe (JPN) [7] beat Takuma Obayashi (JPN)  19-21, 21-17, 21-7
XD:  Kim Won Ho / Jeong Na Eun (KOR) [5] beat Guo Xinwa / Zhang Shuxian (CHN) [7]  21-17, 21-15
WD:  Sayaka Hobara / Natsuki Sone (JPN) beat Rira Kawashima / Saori Ozaki (JPN) [4]  14-21, 21-10, 21-16
MD:  Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR) [1] beat Kang Min Hyuk / Kim Jae Hwan (KOR) [5]  21-13, 21-16
WS:  Saena Kawakami (JPN) [3] beat Lee Se Yeon (KOR)  21-14, 21-10

Click here for complete results

Miyuki Komiya

About Miyuki Komiya

Miyuki Komiya is Badzine's correspondent in Japan. She joined the Badzine team in 2008 to provide coverage of the Japanese badminton scene. She has played badminton for more than 30 years and has been a witness to the modern history of Japanese badminton, both watching players become stronger on court and hearing the players comment on their increasing success over the years. Contact her at: miyuki @ badzine.net