KOREA OPEN R32 – Pan Am’s best start strong

Pan American badminton’s four top women won three big matches at the Korea Open, starting with Zhang Beiwen ousting 2017 winner P. V. Sindhu, followed by wins for 2 of […]

Pan American badminton’s four top women won three big matches at the , starting with Zhang Beiwen ousting 2017 winner P. V. Sindhu, followed by wins for 2 of Canada’s Pan Am Games gold medallists.

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

A visibly ill Zhang Beiwen looked more relieved than ecstatic after chalking up her 4th career win over new World Champion Pusarla Venkata Sindhu.  Neither being the returning runner-up at the Korea Open nor even a big upset of an opener could make the USA shuttler feel better, but the week is not over yet.

Zhang got off to a terrible start in her match, scoring just 7 points in the first game.  She trailed throughout most of the second game as well put she pulled it off and finally pulled away late in the decider.

“I’m sick, I’m sick,” said Zhang.  “When I travelled from China, I got a skin infection and then my throat also.  I couldn’t even do anything for the last 3 days so I didn’t expect I could win today.

“In the first game, I only got 7 points and then in the second, she was also leading by a lot [cough] and I didn’t think about winning or losing, just ‘okay, I’ll just enjoy how I play’ and then suddenly I got the chance to win.”

Asked if she thought things would get better, Zhang said, “I don’t know, I’ll just enjoy playing every game and not expect too much.  Also, my condition each day is something I just don’t know – like after today’s match – how I’m going to feel the next day.”

This is by no means the first time that Zhang Beiwen has gotten the better of Sindhu.  She beat the Indian star twice last year, including in the final of Sindhu’s home India Open.

Asked what aspects of her game might trouble the newly crowned World Champion, Zhang said, “My conditions might trouble her, like if I’m not rushing, because she is a really fast player.  She also has some weaknesses but I cannot say what they are,” she said smiling, “so if I’m not rushing, I think I can win.  Like today, even though my condition was not good, I was not rushing and I played pretty patiently.

“My lungs are pretty good because I’ve been training pretty hard the last two weeks so my lungs are okay but it’s just there is something inside so when I breathe there is something itching and that’s why I keep coughing.”

Shortly after Zhang’s victory, she was joined in the second round by the Pan Am region’s new top women’s singles player, Michelle Li of Canada.  In fact, the two players, both of whom have a career highest ranking of #9 in the world (Li having replaced Zhang at #9 last month), will meet on Thursday for the first time in 2 years.

Michelle Li advanced with a little payback against Thailand’s Pornpawee Chochuwong.  The two players have only ever played in first round matches and while Li prevailed when they played in Korea two years ago, it was Chochuwong who advanced to the second round last week at the China Open.  The Thai, like Li, is enjoying her highest ever ranking.  At #14 in the world, she also reached her first ever semi-final in a former- event in July of this year.

Chochuwong looked set to send the match to a deciding game when she led 16-13 in the second, but Michelle Li went on a 6-point run from which the Thai never recovered.

“Before last week, it had been a while since I’d played against her,” said Michelle Li after the match.  “Obviously, I’ve seen her around.  She’s developing her game very well and it’s showing in tournaments.”

On her own improving form, the Canadian said, “Japan was my first semi-final at a Super 750.  I had always played quarter-finals at the highest, so it’s definitely really satisfying to go another round.  Obviously, I want to keep going and there is no ceiling.  So it definitely makes me more motivated and I’m enjoying every little bit of it so if it happens or not, I’m doing my best and enjoying the process.”

Fellow Pan Am Games gold medallists Rachel Honderich / Kristen Tsai also enjoyed a straight-game victory.  The Canadians beat Selena Piek / Cheryl Seinen of the Netherlands in two fast-paced, hard-hitting games punctuated by spirited celebrations from the winners.

Asked how it felt as Pan Am Games gold medallists to beat the European Games gold medallists, Kristen Tsai said, “I didn’t even think about it until you told me but now that you’ve said it…”

“It is pretty good,” continued Rachel Honderich, “because traditionally, you have the Asian Champion and then the European would probably be the next in line so now that you mention it, it’s pretty exciting.  I think we just went into it thinking they’re a top 25 pair and very strong so European Champion or not, we’re really happy with the win.

“We played them in May in Brazil this year and we beat them then but we knew they’d got some really good results in so it would be a big challenge today.”

Both Canadian women’s doubles pairs in action in Incheon on Wednesday featured a lot of jump smashing.  In this match, it was Kristen Tsai doing most of the leaping, while her compatriot Catherine Choi spent much of her match airborne as well, though she and Josephine Wu were unable to do much to inconvenience Japan Masters winners Sakuramoto/Takahata.

On her own smashing preference, Tsai said, “I find it hard to smash without jumping.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always jumped.  I don’t know if it was that I was brought up by male coaches or whether it was that my sparring group was always guys and I just developed it but I like it.  It works well.”

“I think in Canada, a lot of us are used to sparring with males so like Kristen said, it probably rubs off on us,” added Honderich.

The Canadians had not yet looked ahead to find that awaiting them in the second round would be none other than last week’s China Open winners Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan.

“We played them in March at the All England and we got a beating,” said Tsai.

As for their prospects and their approach to matches like Thursday’s, Honderich said, “I think the more we’re playing and getting exposure, our belief is getting stronger and stronger that we can challenge these top pairs.

“For sure we have to be realistic.  I mean, they are top in the world.  They won the China Open last week so they’re obviously in top form and we know it’s going to be a tough challenge and the odds are against us but you never know.  You might catch them on a bad day and a good day for us and in a windy stadium, anything is possible.  We definitely want to set our bar for ourselves high and we’ll see what happens.”

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