CHINESE TAIPEI OPEN SF – Korea dreams of another sweep

Heo Kwang Hee reached his first ever international senior final and Seo Seung Jae won twice as Korean shuttlers kept alive their hopes to sweep the titles in Taipei as […]

Heo Kwang Hee reached his first ever international senior final and Seo Seung Jae won twice as Korean shuttlers kept alive their hopes to sweep the titles in Taipei as they did 6 years ago.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

Since the end of the 1900s, only two teams have managed to go abroad and sweep the titles at a major badminton tournament.  China, of course, is one.  The other is Korea and Taipei was the site of Korea’s biggest 5-title day.

Of course, more teams have done it at home.  Russia has kept the gold to themselves at the Russian Open Grand Prix, as has Korea at the Korea Masters Grand Prix Gold.  Indonesia even won all 5 titles at the 5-star Indonesia Open in 2001.

But when it comes to winning on the road, in this millennium, that distinction belongs to China and Korea.  Korea’s first such was at the 2008 German Open but it was even bigger when all 5 titles went to Korea at the Grand Prix Gold in 2013.

Perhaps it is a bit soon to talk of sweeps, however, when the Koreans will have to fight hard to win any one of the five finals.  This Sunday in Taipei will be a very different challenge from 2013 particularly in men’s singles.  Instead of a top-seeded Korean fending off all challengers and winning as expected, Heo Kwang Hee will be the biggest underdog of the day.

Not only is Heo Kwang Hee (pictured left) in Taipei in search of his first major title, but he is in fact playing in his first international final since he won the World Junior title back in – coincidentally – 2013!  Since joining the senior ranks, he has been in two semi-finals at the Grand Prix Gold/ level but today marked the first time he took that extra step to make a Sunday appearance.

Heo blew a big lead in his opening game with Japan’s Koki Watanabe but he made up for it in the next two.  He played a superb net game and solid defense, while keeping Watanabe guessing constantly with his deceptive punch clears.

Home favourite Chou Tien Chen (pictured above) has had trouble all week winning his matches in the convincing fashion befitting a world #2.  He has got the job done but has spent more time on court than he no doubt hoped for.

Nor did his semi-final deviate from that trend.  His opponent Shesar Hiren Rhustavito had a promising summer, picking up the Russian Open title and then ousting Lin Dan from the Thailand Open in July.  He was not cowed by the top seed and played some amazing defensive shots as he snatched the opening game 25-23.

Chou was not going to be embarrassed on home court for a second straight year, however.  He romped through the next two games and ensured that the home fans would have one local star to cheer for on Sunday afternoon.

Lee/Wang fall to Korean nemesis

Chou’s 69 minutes on court against Rhustavito may have been the most welcome result for the Taipei crowd but it was definitely not the most exciting match.  That came at the end of the day, when Lee Yang and Wang Chi Lin were looking to exact some payback for their defeat at the hands of Korea’s Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (pictured right).

Lee and Yang have only been playing together since the beginning of the year but Choi and Seo have already become the Taiwan pair’s arch-rivals.  They are the only pair that the world #10 have played 4 times, and before that, they played the Spain Masters final against Seo and his former partner.

At the World Championships last month, the Koreans had to claw their way back from facing match point in the second game to beat Wang and Lee in three.  This time again, the 2nd seeds had a 19-16 lead and looked ready to close it out before the Koreans came roaring back.  Lee and Wang never did get a match point in that game but they did save 4 game points before the Koreans finally scored on their serve and forced the decider.

Seo Seung Jae especially was trying to play a very patient game, blocking and dropping and always trying to keep the advantage.  The trouble was that Lee Yang kept taking control at the frontcourt and putting the Koreans back on the defensive.  Later in the deciding game, the Koreans were attacking more but the home pair met that challenge with amazing defense and would not let the Koreans put the shuttle on the floor.

This time, Lee and Wang maintained the upper hand from 18-15 up and secured their match points first.  But again, the Koreans held their nerve and came charging back to earn their own match point at 21-20.  The home pair saved one but on the second opportunity, the Koreans again kept low and pushed forward and when the last shuttle left their opponents’ racquet, they watched with great anxiety as it narrowly missed the sideline and the celebrations began.

Choi and Seo will next play their first match against Rio silver medallists Goh/Tan.  The Malaysians won in three games over Mathias Boe / Mads Conrad-Petersen.

Sung goes for a fourth

A total of 6 of Korea’s finalists from their 2013 sweep were back to compete in the 2019 edition of the Chinese Taipei Open.  The only one to make it back to the final, though, was 3-time winner Sung Ji Hyun (pictured right).

Sung is at a very different point in her career from the day in 2013.  For one thing, on that Sunday, when she won her 2nd of 3 titles at this event, she was still able to beat Tai Tzu Ying regularly.

Still, Sung ruled over compatriot An Se Young in both games of their semi-final.  While the 17-year-old An was looking to reach her 6th final of the year, Sung had not been in one since the Indonesia Open in 2017.

Sung’s opponent in the final will be Canada’s Michelle Li (pictured left).  Li won in three rather lopsided games against Supanida Katethong of Thailand.

Interestingly, although Sung and Li are the same age and have both been playing on the tour for 9 years, they had never played one another before the Uber Cup last year.  Both shuttlers had a breakthrough at the Macau Open, only 9 years apart.  Last year, that event became Michelle Li’s biggest title to date, while in 2009, that was where Sung first scored an upset over an unsuspecting world #1.

Each player has won 2 of their previous 4 encounters but this is the first time that Michelle Li enters as the higher-ranked player.

No luck for Indonesians

If Korean shuttlers celebrated 5 victories in Taipei on Saturday, the fortunes were opposite for the Indonesians in the semi-finals.  Two-time winner Greysia Polii were the first casualties as she and Apriyani Rahayu suffered their first ever loss to Thailand’s Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (pictured).  On the adjacent court, after beating the mighty Lee/Shin in the quarter-finals, Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti and Ribka Sugiarto could not find a way past Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong in the final four.

A few hours before the epic battle in men’s doubles, Seo Seung Jae was seeing his way through to the first of two finals he will contest on Sunday.  He and Chae Yoo Jung saw off Hafiz Faizal / Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja in straight games.

In fact, the mixed doubles final will feature 4 southpaw athletes.  In the other semi-final, Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet beat Chan/Goh of Malaysia.  That was the shortest match of the day.

Finals line-up
XD:  Seo Seung Jae / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [2] vs. Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet (HKG) [4]
WS:  Michelle Li (CAN) [2] vs. Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) [4]
WD:  Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR) [3] vs. Jongkolphan Kititharakul / Rawinda Prajongjai (THA) [4]
MS:  Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [1] vs. Heo Kwang Hee (KOR)
MD:  Goh V Shem / Tan Wee Kiong (MAS) [4] vs. Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (KOR)

Click here for complete semi-final 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