NEW ZEALAND OPEN Finals – Koreans provides the upsets, mixed the thrills

17-year-old An Se Young and compatriots Kong Hee Yong / Kim So Yeong beat, respectively, former and current Olympic champions to claim their titles at the New Zealand Open, only […]

17-year-old An Se Young and compatriots Kong Hee Yong / Kim So Yeong beat, respectively, former and current Olympic champions to claim their titles at the , only after Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying thrilled the crowd with a nail-biting 29-27 third game win in mixed.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Luke Lee / Badmintonphoto (live)

The New Zealand Open had it all – first ever major tournament titles, upsets of Olympic champions, an 84-minute marathon with repeated championship point opportunities for both sides – and it all happened before an appreciative capacity crowd at the Eventfinda Stadium in Auckland.

The afternoon could not have had a better opening.  2016 mixed doubles champions Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying (pictured right) were the favourites, looking for a second title in Auckland and a second Super 300 crown for this year.  Opposite them were Indonesia’s Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti, who have multiple titles separately but are still in the hunt for their first together.

The Malaysians took the opener but Jordan and Oktavianti were dominant in the second and kept the upper hand in the decider, pushing out to a 17-13 lead.  Chan and Goh held their nerves, though, and tied it back up, moving on to match point first.

That is when it really got interesting.  Jordan and Oktavianti managed to save no fewer than 5 championship points and earned 3 of their own, including one at 22-21 where Jordan found only net on an easy kill opportunity in the frontcourt.  In the end, it was the Malaysian pair who were finally able to put it away on the 6th opportunity.

After the match, Goh Liu Ying likened the atmosphere to playing at home in the Malaysia Open: “We love New Zealand,” added the two-time champion.

More upsets for Korea

In the women’s doubles, Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong (pictured right) played an amazing match to cap off an incredible week.  The Koreans took the title in straight games, making it 4 upsets in one week over each of Japan’s top 4 pairs.

It was actually their second final this year against Olympic gold medallists Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi.  They lost to the former world #1s at the Indonesia Masters in January.

The Koreans displayed some punishing attacks alongside solid defense and the Japanese duo were not able to catch Kong off guard with their drops as their compatriots had done in the earlier matches.  Matsutomo and Takahashi did whittle away at the Koreans’ 18-12 lead in the second game but the underdogs finished strong and denied them a deciding game.

After the final, Kong Hee Yong thanked the crowd for their support and Kim So Yeong explained, “Yesterday’s match was so hard but today, it felt so smooth and we didn’t find it taxing at all.  I think we both must just have been in really good condition.”

Playing in her first major final, An Se Young (pictured left) did look a little more nervous than she had in her earlier matches but she still showed plenty of the youthful brilliance as she faced 2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui.  Most of the tension was in the opening game, as Li’s precision net play and drops, together with her practiced deception, kept An guessing and unable to win points on her attack as she had been able to earlier in the week.

The teenager still had enough spirit to take the opener and Li was the one with the pressure in the second.  An’s coaches were urging her to concentrate on defense but early in the second game, she was unable to contain herself and she kept going for smashes and spinning net shots that opened her court up to Li’s counter-attacking play.

An did settle into her game plan eventually, and kept Li at the back of the court to both force errors and to open up space for her crosscourt half smashes.  After the young Korean moved out to an 18-12 lead, Li went on a run of points that looked eerily like how Aya Ohori had forced a deciding game in their semi-final but this time, the Korean cut that off early and finished it off by bouncing her drop shot off the tape and sinking to her knees in delight.

“I just can’t believe it,” said An in her post-match interview on court.  “I think I was just in good condition.”

Indonesia takes two, too

An Se Young may have earned the first major title of her career but in fact, both singles winners accomplished firsts as far as the goes.  Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie (pictured right, with runner-up Ng Ka Long) had gold medals at the 2017 SEA Games and at last year’s Asian Games but this one marked his first title in the World Tour.  Even before the current format began, his best title that included prize money was at the International Challenge level.

On Sunday in Auckland, Christie needed just 39 minutes to see off Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong.  The 21-year-old is one of 3 Indonesians in the top 16 in the world but he is now the early front-runner in points to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The last match of the day might not have had the tight scoreline of the opening match, nor the upset potential of the women’s matches but what was happening on court was all that was needed.  All four players played fast and furious, with astounding reflexes.

3 of the 4 hit behind-the-back shots, sometimes even winning the rally but beyond that, there were dives, leaps, incredible deception, long rallies: just everything you want in a badminton final and more.  In the end, it was the All England champions who came out on top, with Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (pictured) beating Asian Champions Endo/Watanabe 21-17 in the deciding game.

While most of the world’s top players will be preparing for the upcoming Sudirman Cup, the Koreans will return home on this holiday weekend and must prepare for the second-biggest domestic event of the year before their top shuttlers board their plane for Nanning later in the month.

Final results
XD:  Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying (MAS) [2] beat Praveen Jordan / Melati Daeva Oktavianti (INA) [5]  21-14, 16-21, 29-27
WD:  Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR) beat Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [2]  21-15, 21-18
MS:  Jonatan Christie (INA) [3] beat Ng Ka Long (HKG) [6]  21-12, 21-13
WS:  An Se Young (KOR) beat Li Xuerui (CHN) [6]  21-19, 21-15
MD:  Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA) [2] beat Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe (JPN) [3]  20-22, 21-15, 21-17

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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