THAILAND OPEN R16 – Key upsets from Korea and Malaysia

Soniia Cheah of Malaysia and Korea’s Chang/Kim were the first to take down top ten opponents on Day 3 the 2019 Thailand Open. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in […]

Soniia Cheah of Malaysia and Korea’s Chang/Kim were the first to take down top ten opponents on Day 3 the 2019 .

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Bangkok.  Photos: Yves Lacroix / Badmintonphoto (live)

It was barely two hours into the third day at the 2019 Thailand Open in Bangkok when already the top ten players started to fall.  Korean women’s doubles pairs have been causing upsets and winning titles in various combinations this year but it wasn’t the usual suspects doing the upsetting on Thursday at Indoor Stadium Huamark.  In fact, the hitherto in-form pair, new top ten entrants Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong, went down in straight games to world #7 Du Yue / Li Yinhui.

Chang Ye Na and Kim Hye Rin (pictured top), on the other hand, have a Super 100 runner-up finish to their name but came to Thailand the only one of Korea’s 4 new top pairs that hadn’t yet beaten a top pair.  Even their partner-swap counterparts, Baek Ha Na and Jung Kyung Eun, had a win over the world #13 pair on their recent North American tour.

That changed on Thursday, however, when Chang and Kim stormed to a 21-15, 21-9 victory over Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (pictured above), adding injury to insult after the Japanese pair slipped again from the #1 spot in the world rankings.  While Chang Ye Na has extensive experience playing against the world #2 – winning only 6 of 14 matches against them in the past 4 years, with 2 different partners – it was the first the first time playing them for her new partner Kim Hye Rin.

“I mostly followed my partner Ye Na,” said Kim Hye Rin.  “The Japanese and Chinese pairs in particular have a playing style that really matches ours well so we just played very confidently today.”

Despite the one-sided scoreline, Chang Ye Na was quick to point out that it was harder than it perhaps looked: “Actually, it wasn’t a comfortable match while we were playing it,” she said.  “Our previous match was really exhausting because we found it really difficult to come back from being a game down, so at the beginning of today’s match we were telling ourselves that we have to concentrate right from the beginning so that we could get the lead early.  Once we go the lead, then it become a more comfortable match to play.”

On their upcoming quarter-final against Greysia Polii / Apriyani Rahayu (pictured below) of Indonesia, who won a close one over Delphine Delrue and Lea Palermo, Chang said, “This will be the first time playing against [Polii/Rahayu] with Hye Rin.  To be honest, we won’t really know until we get into the match but if we work hard to prepare for the match, I think we can play well and produce another result like today’s.”

Around this time four years ago, the Korean coaching staff was still experimenting with new pairs well into the qualifying period for the Rio Olympics, a process that wasn’t finalized until September 2015.  This time, these two players only have ranking points with each other since Tokyo qualifying began in May and neither will be playing at the World Championships in any partnership.

Chang Ye Na commented on whether partner swaps would continue: “We don’t exactly know but I don’t think there will be any more partnership changes.  I hope not because there really isn’t that much time left before the Olympics.”

Malaysia gets into the upset act

It was a very different breakthrough for Malaysia’s Soniia Cheah (pictured) in the women’s singles event.  She ruled over world #6 He Bingjiao, controlling the rallies and claiming victory in just over half an hour.

Unlike Kim and Chang, who are merely making a new mark after switching out of largely successful previous partnerships, Cheah has been trying to climb to the top after a long injury hiatus a few years ago.  Last year’s Thailand Open was her first quarter-final at this level since her comeback began, but this one involved an extra little milestone.

“I felt pretty good about the match just now because I managed to overcome myself to upset a top ten player,” said Cheah after her victory, adding that this was the first such victory since she came back from her injury.  So I’m pretty happy about the performance today and I’m looking forward to the match tomorrow.

“I think that today my game plan worked because I had some discussion with my coach about her and I feel that today my shots were pretty accurate – more accurate than yesterday so I think that luck was on my side today.”

On her upcoming match against top seed Chen Yufei, Cheah said, “I have lost to her several times actually so I really hope that I can have a better performance because I met her at the Japan Open too, in the second round, and I lost to her quite badly so I wish that I can have a better match tomorrow.  I just want to fight to do my best.”

Perhaps less surprising for the Malaysian camp was the victory over world #6 Han/Zhou by Rio silver medallists Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong (pictured below).  The Malaysians may be lower ranked but they are certainly the more decorated pair historically and won their only previous encounter with the French Open winners from China.  The Malaysians dropped the first game but came back to take the next two and advance to the quarter-finals.

“I think both of us played quite well today and it was a good, high standard match today,” said Tan Wee Kiong.  “We managed to come back from a first game loss so that was quite important for us.”

After their match, it was still uncetain whether they would face China’s Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, but soon afterward, World Champions had won in three after trading one-sided games with Lu/Yang of Chinese Taipei.

Tan said, “It’s been a long time since we’ve played against [Li/Liu] so i think we need to wait until they finish before we try to figure out what we need to prepare tomorrow.”

Men’s doubles saw a few other upsets.  Choi Sol Gyu and Seo Seung Jae (pictured) reversed their result against Wang Chi Lin and Lee Yang of Chinese Taipei, to whom they had lost at the Sudirman Cup.  Their quarter-final opponents, however, came through after their own upset.

Before that, India’s Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (pictured bottom) ousted Asian Games silver medallists Fajar Alfian / Muhammad Rian Ardianto of Indonesia in straight games.  Rankireddy and Seo will both be in two quarter-finals on Friday as both qualified later in the day in mixed doubles as well.

“We played them before and the last time too it was very close,” said Chirag Shetty.  “In the final of the [Syed Modi Super 300], in the second game, we were beating them 20-17 so we had 3 game points but we kind of messed it up in the end.

“But this time we were much more confident and we were pretty good in our service and defense.  In the last few points, after 15 or 16 both of us served really well and even received very well so I think that helped us and put them under pressure.”

New world top ten entrants Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik were the other upset victims.  The Malaysians had removed 8th seeds Liao/Su on Tuesday but fell on Thursday to the new Chinese pairing of Huang Kaixiang and 2017 World Champion Liu Cheng.

Click here for complete Thursday 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