KOREA OPEN Finals – He Bingjiao ends title drought!

China’s He Bingjiao won her first tournament in nearly 3 years, coming from behind to beat Ratchanok Intanon and claim the 2019 Korea Open title. By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent […]

China’s He Bingjiao won her first tournament in nearly 3 years, coming from behind to beat Ratchanok Intanon and claim the 2019 title.

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

22-year-old He Bingjiao (pictured top) was only 16 when she came to Korea for the 2013 Jeonju Grand Prix Gold.  At the time, she was the reigning Asian Under-17 champion and she reached the semi-final in what was her first senior international tournament overseas.

At the Korea Open, she had been in the semis once before, losing to eventual winner P. V. Sindhu.  This year, she came hoping to end a title drought that stretched back to the 2016 French Open, meaning that she had yet to title since leaving her teen years.

She came in with a 4-1 record over opponent Ratchanok Intanon (pictured right).  However, it was the Thai who came in as favourite to take her 3rd title of the year and she got off to the better start and grabbed the first game.

In the second, Intanon came back from 8-13 down to earn 4 match points at 20-16.  But He wouldn’t go quietly.  Slowly but surely, she erased one match point after another.

The Thai was unsure of several line calls and perhaps encouraged, by one successful challenge, she tried a couple more, one of them on He Binjiao’s right sideline, which HawkEye confirmed to be well wide of the line.  On game point, Intanon’s smash down the other sideline, was called out in a tough and much more questionable call for the line judge but Intanon was already out of challenges.

The deciding game featured more exciting rallies and close scores but He led throughout until she had the title 21-17.  Before repairing to the medal ceremony, she called out to her coaches and then grabbed her bag and tossed two racquets into the crowd of very appreciative spectators.

“In the second game, I calmed down and I was able to stick to my strategy better,” said He Bingjiao of her reversal of fortunes after dropping the opener.

“Before the final, I was thinking ‘Will I win or will I lose?’ so it made me very anxious.  Now that I have won my first title in 3 years, I can’t say anything because my brain is just empty.

“The first thing I want to do is tell my parents about my win and after that, I will think about what’s going on tonight because I’m not such an outgoing person.

“From this tournament, I’ve learned some ways to win, particularly when I fall behind and I think that will be useful in my coming tournaments.  Everyone is looking forward to my next final and I am too.”

So finally after two promising past results in Korea, He Bingjiao is the Korea Open champion.  Of her feelings about playing and winning in this country, she said, “The atmosphere for badminton here is very good.  The spectators know a lot so they know how to watch the match and how to cheer.  Also the food here is good, I like it, so I play well.”

Asked whether racquet giveaways were part of her normal winning routine, He replied, “This was the first time for me ever to do something like that.  Right before I did that, I asked my coach if it would be okay if I threw my racquet into the crowd and he said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

Surprise split for China and Thailand

If He Bingjiao resuming her dominance over Ratchanok Intanon was not exactly surprising, the mixed doubles result certainly was, especially after the one-sided result of the last match between these two pairs, at this year’s World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.

Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (pictured) were mercilessly schooled in Basel by Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong.  This time, they still showed flashes of their usual brilliance but the Thai pair ruled from start to finish, maintaining the attack and making minimal errors.

“Obviously, I feel happy because this is the second time this year that we are champions in a ,” said Sapsiree Taerattanachai after the win.  “In the World Championships, we couldn’t play our game and we defended a lot.  This time, we were able to attack them a lot and forced them to make mistakes.

“We have more confidence now and we will just do our best in the coming tournaments.”

Alfian and Ardianto end their own mini-drought

After the full concentration given by home spectators to the all-Korean final in women’s doubles that opened the afternoon’s proceedings at the 2019 Korea Open finals, the next best spectacle involved a vociferous contingent of Indonesian fans.  They had come mainly to lend their support to Fajar Alfian / Muhammad Rian Ardianto (pictured).  Only 5 pairs in the world are ranked ahead of the Asian Games silver medallists, 1 was not in attendance in Incheon, and the Indonesians had to beat 3 of the other 4 if they wanted to win the Korea Open title.

As it turned out, it took Olympic gold medallist Zhang Nan, in his new partnership with Ou Xuanyi, to push Alfian and Ardianto to three games.  Their world #1 compatriots Gideon/Sukamuljo, then 2018 World Champions Li/Liu, both went down in two games.

Then world #4 Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (pictured) played their usual fast, focused game in the final but the Indonesians just played that little bit faster and flew that little bit higher, and they won in straight games, and by bigger margins than they had all week.

“This tournament is very important because it’s been a long time since we’ve been at the top of the podium so this will make us more confident,” said Alfian after the win, their first at a Super 500 event since the Malaysia Masters in January of last year.  In the interim, they had won Asian Games silver and also two Super 300 titles.

Asked whether it was more important to get the win itself or to have the opportunity to stay within striking distance of their compatriots in the rankings, Ardianto said, “Of course, it is always a motivation that we have to catch up to the other Indonesian pairs in the world rankings but we don’t want to focus too much on that.  We want to focus on our own success.”

On their successes the past few days, Alfian said, “The Chinese pair is very tough to play against.  It’s not easy for us to beat them because they are so powerful but as for Sonoda and Kamura, we did not expect that we would be able to beat them in straight games.”

“Every opponent has been a challenge for us but we didn’t expect that we could beat the world #1, #3, and #4 pairs so every match was hard,” added Ardianto.

Men’s singles defending champion Chou Tien Chen did not make it easy for Kento Momota (pictured).  He played a strong net game and even stronger attacks and kept things close throughout but the two-time World Champion still finished as the winner in straight games.  It was Momota’s first win in Korea since he was Asian Junior Champion way back in 2012.

Most of the top players will be taking a couple of weeks off competition before the two Super 750 events in Europe next month but Alfian/Ardianto are entered in their home Super 100 event next week, while the entire Korean team is bound for nearby Suwon, where for nearly two weeks, they will all be concentrating on the 100th Annual National Sports Festival, representing their cities or provinces along with their respective school or pro teams.

Final results
WD:  Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [6] beat Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (KOR) [8]  13-21, 21-19, 21-17            
MD:  Fajar Alfian / Muhammad Rian Ardianto (INA) [6] beat Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (JPN) [4]  21-16, 21-17
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] beat Chou Tien Chen (TPE) [2]  21-19, 21-17
WS:  He Bingjiao (CHN) [7] beat Ratchanok Intanon (THA) [6]  18-21, 24-22, 21-17
XD:  Dechapol Puavaranukroh / Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA) [4] beat Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1]  21-14, 21-13

Click here for complete 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