New challenges, perhaps new titles ahead for former World Champions

2014 World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol are in the final 8 for the second straight week and experiences like the 2019 Thailand Open are new both […]

2014 World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol are in the final 8 for the second straight week and experiences like the 2019 are new both on- and off-court for the independent Korean players.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Bangkok.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live and archives)

Back when Shin Baek Cheol announced he was retiring from international badminton 3 years ago, badminton had 13 Superseries tournaments and Shin and Ko Sung Hyun played them regularly, won them often, and we expected to see them there and to see them do well.

Today, events like the Thailand Open or last week’s Japan Open Super 750 are still a cut above the Super 300, where the Koreans have picked up two titles recently.  But the fact that the results are starting to come back, with the pair reaching the quarter-finals for the second straight week, is just one of the new challenges these two men are meeting now as independent players.

Ko Sung Hyun also left the national team in early 2017 – without going through any official ‘retirement’ process – and he and Shin only returned to international badminton last summer.  Until the end of last year, they could not make the qualifying list of any Super 500 or above and until last week in Japan, they had not won a match at any of these bigger tournaments.

In Japan, the Koreans were stopped by Indonesia’s Ahsan/Setiawan, both their predecessors and successors as World Champions.   Ko Sung Hyun admitted that they were anticipating a third match against the Indonesians in the last two months, as they had also beaten the Indonesian veterans in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in June.

However, after Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi pulled off one of the first upsets of the tournament by beating the two-time World Champions on Tuesday, it was they who faced Ko and Shin.  It took only 29 minutes on court for the Koreans to see off the Malaysia Masters runners-up.

“Of course, we did think that Ahsan and Setiawan would advance so we were actually gearing up to face them again,” said Ko Sung Hyun, “but as it turned out, the Malaysian pair beat them so frankly, this was sort of a bit easier match than we had been expecting.”

“Although this was our first time playing them,” said Shin Baek Cheol, “we had seen them play several times.  Also, there is a certain playing style that Malaysian pairs seem to share and we came to play with that style in mind.”

Ko Sung Hyun did not have a preference for a Friday opponent, and later in the day it was the new pairing of Huang Kaixiang and 2017 World Champion Liu Cheng who beat out Malaysia’s Soh/Chia.

“Whoever advances is going to be a strong pair,” said Ko.  “So it’s going to be a tough match either way.  We haven’t really given much thought to who we’d like to meet in the quarter-finals.”

The Koreans have been competing independently of the (BKA), after winning a court case last spring that forced the BKA to enter independent players in BWF ranking events.  Still, the BKA declined the BWF’s invitation for Ko/Shin to compete at the upcoming as a second eligible Korean pair.  Thus, Korea will be represented only by Choi/Seo in Basel, as the BKA declined invitations for one other independent pair and 2 other disbanded national team pairs.

“Even if we wanted to play in the World Championships, it’s that type of tournament that seems to be for national team players,” said Ko Sung Hyun.  “As for the Olympics, we’d like to play there but again, with us not being actually on the national team, we have a feeling that the BKA is not going to give us that opportunity.  We don’t know that for sure yet, though, of course.”

The World Championships has prestige and more ranking points than any other tournament but the lack of prize money means a slightly different decision for players no longer getting all the support from their national team structure: “It’s true that prize money is a more important consideration for us now.  Even if we have sponsorship, the money we can get from prize money also helps a lot.  Our main target is to qualify for the Olympics but the second target is the Open tournaments where we can earn money from the prize winnings,” said Shin Baek Cheol.

“With a tournament like the Worlds, though, the prestige is so great that we would be really keen to do well if we had the chance, even if there isn’t the chance to earn prize money,” added Ko.

Money and strong opponents are not the only new challenges for these independent players.  They have gone from a national team with comprehensive support for athletes in terms of training, travel, and tournament planning to being responsible for all of those things themselves and the told Badzine about some of them.

“Actually, communication is a major problem for us,” admitted Shin.  “We don’t speak English fluently so that really causes difficulties when we go abroad for a tournament.”

“Also, we don’t travel with a trainer so there’s no one looking after our physical condition and we have to manage that all ourselves so that’s difficult too,” added Ko.

Last month, the two veterans added the U.S. Open Super 300 title to the one they won in Australia in June but the money and the ranking points will only start to roll in once they can make their mark on events like this Super 500 in Thailand and beyond.  Ko Sung Hyun commented on what they still had to work on: “I think we still find ourselves in situations where we tend to rush things so if we can get a handle on that, I think we’ll be able to play better in the future.”

Click here for complete Wednesday results from the Thailand Open

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 @