KOREA OPEN Finals – Kim/Kong crowned champions

The all-Korean women’s doubles final at the Korea Open went to world #8 Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong. By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Incheon.  Photos: Yves […]

The all-Korean women’s doubles final at the went to world #8 Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong.

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

It was an electric atmosphere in the Incheon Airport Skydome on Sunday for the opening match between two pairs each hoping to become the first home pair to win the women’s doubles title at home since 2016.  In the end, Lee So Hee was relegated to runner-up status for a third time in 5 outings as the title went to first-time finalists Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong.

Lee So Hee started playing doubles with Shin Seung Chan (pictured right) back in middle school.  Both players have been as high as #2 in the world rankings with different partners but in the last year, they have been united in their domestic pro team, which is based right here at the 2019 Korea Open venue.  Since then, they have picked up a Super 750 title and have entered the world’s top 5 for the first time together.

Lee/Shin, who finished 2018 by reaching 4 straight finals, were playing their first Sunday match of 2019 and they were up against Kim/Kong, who had already been in 5 finals this year, picking up 3 titles, including the Japan Open Super 750.

The 5th seeds had no intention of being upstaged in their first Korea Open final together, however.  They came out firing against a nervous-looking Kim So Yeong / Kong Hee Yong (pictured left) and won the first game handily, as their opponents repeatedly sent shuttles long an otherwise struggled to gain control of the rallies.

Kim/Kong started slow again in the second but they kept it much closer and began to close in in the bottom half of the game.  After falling behind 10-14, Kim So Yeong finished off a thrilling rally by placing a net kill on the backhand tram lines to finally tie up the second game at 14-all and propel her side into the lead for the first time.

Kim tied it up again at 17-all with a reverse-slice drop to almost the same part of the court.  Soon afterward, Kim/Kong surged ahead with 3 straight points to even the match at one game apiece.

The home crowd was appreciative of every quality rally – of which there were many – but there did seem to be a slight preference for the fortunes of the 8th seeds.  This is interesting considering that while all 4 players had support as Koreans, Lee, Shin, and Kim also had the benefit of belonging to a pro team based in Incheon, and in this very facility.

The reason for Kong and Kim being the slight crowd favourites can only be speculated on.  Perhaps it is because they have been getting more attention this year with their 6 major finals.  Or perhaps it was the the contagious exuberance of a young lady in the crowd who was the spittin’ image of Kong Hee Yong.  Or it may just be that the fans enjoy uttering the words ‘Kim-Kong’, which even in Korean can sound a tiny bit like the iconic movie primate and has been picked up in the Korean media in recent months, sometimes in the variant ‘Queen-Kong’.

In any case, the cheers had their effect and Kim and Kong refused to give up the lead in the deciding game.  They weathered a late challenge by Lee/Shin and bounced back from the 17-all draw to take 4 straight and snatch the title.

“The Korea Open is the biggest tournament held in Korea so we are so glad to win the title here,” said Kim So Yeong.  “This may be our fourth title this year but the word ‘champion’ never gets old.  It still makes us so happy to hear it.”

Kong Hee Yong added, “I’m really happy to win such a big tournament at home in Korea and I’m really grateful to So Yeong for making that possible.”

“The first game really didn’t turn out the way we’d envisioned it,” said Kim.  “We were also losing in the second game, I think because we were being greedy for points, so I told Hee Yong we should relax and rethink things and I made a little change to my serve and I think that through off Seung Chan.”

“After the China Open, we trained like we always do, but I ate a fair bit of meat,” said Kong Hee Yong.

“Actually, moreso than the Japanese pairs, it was beating Chen and Jia in the quarter-finals that made us think we had a chance to win,” said Kim.  “On the other hand, we didn’t really expect to make it all the way to the final so once we did make it, we started to think this isn’t this a great opportunity to get the Korea Open title!

“We lost to [Chen/Jia] at the World Championships after having beaten them in Japan but winning against them this week was a really good feeling.”

Asked what she still felt she needed to work on in her game, Kong said, “Since I am usually more comfortable playing at the back, one thing I need to work on is running in the backcourt to cover whenever the shuttle gets past So Yeong at the net.”

On their perception of which side the crowd was supporting the strongest, Kim So Yeong said, “I could have sworn that I heard Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan’s names more from the crowd, but still, when we really needed a boost, we could still hear people cheering for us and I think that really motivated us to play hard and win.”

“I was concentrating too hard on the match to notice any of the spectators’ voices,” said Kong Hee Yong coyly, when asked if there were any of her siblings among those voices.  But Kim So Yeong confirmed that Kong’s youngest sister was indeed the super-excited lass whose voice went up in pitch right along with her eonni’s score.

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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