KOREA OPEN R32 – Korean favourites advance

Korea’s highest-ranked shuttlers advanced in 4 disciplines on Day 2 of the Korea Open, joined by the unknown Kim Donghoon, while 2019 newsmakers An Se Young, Ko Sung Hyun and […]

Korea’s highest-ranked shuttlers advanced in 4 disciplines on Day 2 of the , joined by the unknown Kim Donghoon, while 2019 newsmakers An Se Young, Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol fell by the wayside.

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

Korea will have 3 representatives in the women’s singles round of 16.  The first to qualify was Kim Ga Eun.  Kim fought hard against India’s Saina Nehwal and after being unable to catch up in the opening game, she took the second and was leading 8-1 in the third by the time that Saina retired from the match with an injury.

The last was Kim Hyo Min (pictured right).  She won in straight games late in the evening against world #22 Line Kjaersfeldt.  While the Dane has reached the two biggest finals of her career in the past year, Kim has struggled ever since she was in the semi-finals of the Korea Open in 2016.

Kim made it through in straight games, though, and will now face All England champion Chen Yufei, who dealt with the only other European in the women’s singles draw.  She beat Evgeniya Kosetskaya in two.

Also late in the day, Korea’s top two players met in the first round.  It was the second straight time at home for the two ladies, as they had also met in the first round of the Korea Masters last November.  While on that occasion, they were playing in An’s hometown, this time, the Korea Open venue just happens to be the gymnasium in which Sung Ji Hyun’s pro team plays.

“This is the training gymnasium for my team but even so, I still wasn’t able to hit the shuttle,” laughed Sung after her match.  “But now that I have gotten into the tournament, I’m starting to get the feel for the place.”

An Se Young (pictured above) played her usual precision net game but Sung found success with pushing her around the backcourt and while An was able to keep many of her drops and defensive blocks tight to the net, Sung meticulously took apart the youngster’s defense and repeatedly caused her to make errors or to lift short.

An Se Young still raced out to a commanding 17-12 lead in the first game but an 8-point run by Sung put a stop to that success and she finished the match in two games.

After her victory, Sung Ji Hyun (pictured right) commented on the effect her recent 4th Chinese Taipei Open title had on her spirits: “Early in the tournament, I was dealing with an injury so I was really being careful and I was working hard to get back up to strength but once I was able to win the Chinese Taipei Open, it really did add to my confidence.”

On her 3 straight wins over An Se Young in international play, she said, “We train together so we have so much experience with each other’s game.  As for the actual occasions when we play in international tournaments, it all depends on each player’s condition on that day.”

Sung Ji Hyun was also asked what she thought of the fact that the crowd seemed to be rooting mostly for her opponent on Wednesday: “I know, I was very surprised by that.  I thought, ‘I’m in Korea, right? And I’m Korean.’  I guess there was a group who came up from Gwangju to support Se Young.”

Next up for Sung Ji Hyun is World Championship runner-up and Korea Open defending champion Nozomi Okuhara (pictured).  Sung has had her successes against the Japanese star by her last victory was back in the 2016 at the Uber Cup finals.

“Okuhara is very fit and she’s very fast so if I can try to make her speed, I can create my chances,” said Sung Ji Hyun.

In men’s singles, Korea is down to just one player.  26-year-old southpaw Kim Dong Hoon (pictured right) came back from a game down to beat Denmark’s Rasmus Gemke in three games.

“This is my fifth time in the Korea Open and after losing in the qualifying 4 times, to win two qualifying matches and then advance in the main draw makes me so happy,” said Kim afterward.  “Also, the fact that I am the only men’s singles player left makes me really want to win and keep going in the tournament.  The fact that there was so much support from the fans is precisely the reason why I just couldn’t give up.”

Kim Dong Hoon’s next test is against none other than two-time World Champion Kento Momota: “I’m not going into the match against Momota focused on winning.  My priority is going to be playing hard and doing my best.  Like today, I have to not give up and keep on running.”

Asked whether his obscurity gives him an edge, Kim said, “Well, other players don’t know my level but I don’t know it either.  I tend to play very badly against lower level players but I can sometimes beat higher-level players.  I have tended to really fall apart when I’m having a bad day but today, it was the crowd that kept me going and prevented that from happening.

“In the first game, I was focussed on winning and kept attacking.  From the second game, I concentrated on my strokes and on making my opponent run and run and when he started to make errors, it started to come together for me.”

“In my case, I prefer playing here to last year’s venue,” Kim Dong Hoon said of the move to the Incheon Airport Skydome for the 2019 edition.  “The hall is smaller and there is less wind.  In the bigger halls, when you look up, it always feels as if the shuttle is taking a long time to fall.”

In-form Choi/Seo beat their elders

Korea has just two men’s doubles pairs remaining as of the second round.  2014 World Champions Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol got off to a good start in the second game of their repeat of the U.S. Open final but they couldn’t force a third game and Lee Yang / Wang Chi Lin managed to go the distance without injury.

On the adjacent court, newly-crowned Vietnam Open champions Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (pictured) narrowly beat Lee Yong Dae / Kim Gi Jung.  Lee Yong Dae was still getting the most vociferous support from the small crowd but no doubt this will be transferred to Choi and Seo by the time they come up against Astrup/Rasmussen on Thursday.

The only other Korean pair to advance was Kang Min Hyuk / Kim Jae Hwan.  This relatively new pair saw off Jelle Maas and Robin Tabeling of the Netherlands in two quick games early in the day.

Click here for complete Wednesday 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