SUDIRMAN CUP QF – No 2nd miracle for An or Korea

Korea’s attempt at a title defense at the Sudirman Cup ended with An Se Young unable to reproduce her own magic against Ratchanok Intanon, as Thailand won 3-1 to book […]

Korea’s attempt at a title defense at the ended with unable to reproduce her own magic against Ratchanok Intanon, as Thailand won 3-1 to book a semi-final date with fellow winners China.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Both the Korean team generally and 17-year-old sensation An Se Young in particular were hoping for another miracle.  For Korea, even with their two singles aces back in 2017, their win over China to hoist the Sudirman Cup for the 4th time was itself a total long-shot.  This year, the odds were even less in their favour as they arrived in Nanning without their two top ten singles players.

Korean fans still had a huge bubble of hope, though, after world #50 An Se Young pulled off a stunning victory over world #1 Tai Tzu Ying at the end of the group stage on Wednesday, allowing Korea to top their group.  On Thursday against Thailand, it suddenly looked as if An could, and maybe even would have to be, counted on to do stun former world #1 Ratchanok Intanon as well.

On paper, the Koreans did not stack up too badly against the Thais.  Mixed doubles was the only discipline in which both teams fielded their highest-ranking players and although Thailand has the world #4, in Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Dechapol Puavaranukroh (pictured), they came to Nanning having lost 3 of their 4 previous encounters Chae Yoo Jung and  Seo Seung Jae, who slipped out of the top ten just last week.

But it was the Singapore Open winners who were in peak form against the Koreans in the opening match of the quarter-finals.  In the both games, they repeatedly managed to withstand the Korean attacks and turn their defense into attacking opportunities, while Chae and Seo just could not measure up defensively and too many shuttles ended up in the net or floating loosely above for putaways by the Thai players.  It was the first time that the Koreans were unable to even take one game against Taerattanachai and Puavaranukroh.

Men’s singles was a real question mark.  For Korea, Heo Kwang Hee was of course far lower in the world rankings but he had an incredible match earlier in the week against Ng Ka Long and his record against Kantaphon Wangcharoen was an even 1-1.  Indeed, Heo seemed to be dictating many of the rallies in the two-game match but just put two many shuttles out or into the net, even after forcing his opponent out of position.

The men’s doubles was also impossible to call.  Tinn Isriyanet was the highest-ranked player on court, ranked two spots above Korea’s Kang Min Hyuk / Kim Won Ho (pictured), but he was in a scratch pairing with Kittinupong Kedren.  The Koreans had an impressive run to the semi-finals at the recent Asian Championships but they were visibly nervous in their first game against the Thais and were too prone to short lifts and outright errors and the Thais took the game with a strong finish.  Kang and Kim finally managed to settle in the second game but it was not until the last half of the decider that they really began to cruise, with Kang Min Hyuk especially able to overcome his nerves and play with more confidence.

The victory in the men’s doubles gave an opportunity to youngster An Se Young (pictured) to save the day for the reigning Sudirman Cup champions.  But unlike on Wednesday, when she proved key to Korea’s win but without the threat of sudden elimination, the pressure this time was palpable.  And Ratchanok Intanon now knew what An was capable of and she came on court ready to meet the underdog’s challenge.

“I don’t think she was physically at her peak today. That made difference,” Ratchanok Intanon was quoted as saying in a BWF press release. “Her win over Tai Tzu Ying reminded me that I had to be well prepared today,” she added.

An did produce more of her amazing retrievals from the earlier rounds, as well as from her impressive wins at the New Zealand Open, but she was unable to attack Intanon the way she had against Tai and against Li Xuerui in Auckland.  Ratchanok Intanon finished it off in two games and knelt on her side of the court, awaiting the obligatory swarming from her jubilant team-mates.

“I think I was a bit nervous today, so I had difficulties adjusting to the game,” said An, according the BWF press release. “Overall, I think I played okay. My opponent was very strong but I tried my best.”

China back in the semis

Thailand’s opponent in Saturday’s semi-final will be the home team.  China did suffer its first match defeat of the week but still defeated a hungry Danish squad 3-1.

The Danes actually got off to a one-game winning start courtesy of Mathias Christiansen and Sara Thygesen (pictured right).  The 2016 Dutch Open winners were playing together this week for the first time since they were split up in 2017.  That was when Christiansen began a partnership with former world #1 Christinna Pedersen.  Pedersen retired earlier this year but Thygesen had continued to play mixed with Niclas Nohr.

The Danes did well to put World Champions Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong on the back foot but they couldn’t maintain the momentum.  Late in the deciding game, Christiansen began to go too much for extreme angles and the Chinese pair stood their ground and kept racking up the points until they had put China in front 1-0.

Viktor Axelsen (pictured) then had his chance to even the score against Olympic gold medallist Chen Long.  Axelsen had won his last match against Chen, at the Indonesia Masters in January but Chen had prevailed in their 3 previous meetings.  The Dane was just too good for the two-time World Champion this time, though, and he took it in exactly one hour.

China then turned to its other reigning World Champions to do the honours in the men’s doubles.  Denmark’s Kim Astrup / Anders Skaarup Rasmussen could dare to dream of taking out Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, after they had beaten them at the China Open last year, but it was the world #3 who stepped up and put the home team back in front.

From there on, China looked to have the tie all wrapped up.  In both women’s events, they could count on the world #3, while Denmark had to hope for upsets from both a world #21 and a #19.  However, it was almost exactly a year ago that Mia Blichfeldt had grabbed victory against Chen Yufei in their only ever encounter in a team event.

Such lightning would not strike twice, however.  Blichfeldt did manage a 12-10 lead in the second but Chen Yufei (pictured right), now full of confidence as the reigning All England champion, went on a 7-point run from which the Dane never recovered and China sealed the tie 3-1.

“My team didn’t put any pressure on me. I just had to give my best. This is a team event, not an individual one, so we had to work hard as a team,” Chen said afterward.

The other quarter-finals take place on Friday, starting at 11AM local time.  Top-seeded Japan takes on Malaysia, while Chinese Taipei faces Indonesia.

Click here for complete results from Thursday’s quarter-finals

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