KOREA OPEN SF – Korea’s women, Japanese men each win 2

Korea again celebrated two women’s doubles win Seo Seung Jae smarted at two losses at the Korea Open on Saturday, while Japan enjoyed two wins from their men’s team. By […]

Korea again celebrated two women’s doubles win Seo Seung Jae smarted at two losses at the on Saturday, while Japan enjoyed two wins from their men’s team.

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

“1996?  That’s the year I was born!” said Kong Hee Yong when told when the last time was that the Korea Open had an all-Korean women’s doubles final.

The 22-year-old had just come off a brilliant third game against Japan’s Yukiko Takahata / Ayako Sakuramoto that sealed semi-final victory for her and Kim So Yeong and set up a final encounter with world #5 Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan.  The two pairs have only met once previously, also in a final and also in Korea, in the 2017 Korea Masters in Gwangju.

All-Korean finals have not always been so rare.  It never happened at a event but there were some in Grand Prix Gold events during that era, as well as since then, at Super 300 level, and previously, at the 4-star 2003 Chinese Taipei Open for example.  And of course, the first two Korea Opens featured women’s doubles finals contested by two home pairs.

The first step was the victory by Lee and Shin over Japan’s Chiharu Shida and Nami Matsuyama.  The Koreans were really up against it, though, losing the opening game to the world #15 pair and barely scraping by in the second allowing Shida and Matsuyama to catch up from 13-19 down to tie it at 19-all before the home pair finally forced a decider and won it.

“With this tournament happening in Korea with a home crowd, and it also being our first final this year, we are really motivated to play a great match in the final,” said Lee So Hee after the match.

“Most of the Japanese pairs tend to play a safe game and a very defensive style,” said Shin Seung Chan, “but Shida and Matsuyama play a more attacking style, with fast drives so we feel it’s very different playing against them.”

“This was our first time playing against this pair.  I’ve played once before against Chiharu when we were with different partners but this is the first time since changing partners.  Although we’ve analyzed their match videos this was the first time we’d actually met them on court so yes, there were times when shots came that we weren’t prepared for and we really had to concentrate on being ready in order to win.”

“We know this venue is really out of the way so the fact that so many people made the trip out here to cheer for us is something we are really grateful for,” said Lee So Hee.  “It was because of that that we had the strength to fight to the end for the win in such a tough match.

“This is our home gymnasium for training with our pro team but although we spend a lot of time at the national training centre, we have still spent about a month training here, too.”

Lee So Hee was half of the last pair to contest any Korea Open final, as she was runner-up in 2017, while Shin Seung Chan was half of the last pair to title here in women’s doubles, in 2016 with Jung Kyung Eun.

Still, the Fuzhou China Open champions are excited about playing in the first final of 2019.  Meanwhile, reigning Japan Open champions Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong booked their spot in the same final but it will be their 6th Sunday appearance of the year.

Kim and Kong really made a name for themselves last spring, when they knocked off all four of Japan’s top pairs one after another en route to winning the New Zealand Open.  Sakuramoto and Takahata were not one of the four that week but they certainly gave the Koreans a tough match today.

Even though Kim and Kong looked dominant in the first game, they looked a little shaky in the second as the Japanese paid them back point for point.  The Koreans absolutely ran away with the third game, though, and didn’t allow their opponents to even reach double digits.

“We were able to concentrate really well in the first game and things really went our way,” said Kong after the match.  “In the second game, we were not on the good side and we really weren’t moving well and our legs felt very heavy.  Then in the third game, we concentrated better and moved faster and we were able to get points more easily.

“Today’s match was definitely tougher than yesterday’s,” said Kim So Yeong.  “So much depends on each team’s condition and yesterday, I think our condition was good whereas the Chinese team was maybe not at their best.

“With the Japanese teams, they have such good stamina that whether they’re winning or losing, they still seem able to get anything back so every point you get you have to work so hard for it.”

Kim said she did not dream there would be an all-Korean final: “We didn’t really think we would even be in the final.  There were so many strong teams that I think we were pretty lucky and we’re really happy to just be playing in the final.

“We played So Hee and Seung Chan once before, in the final of the 2017 Korea Masters.  We know really well but they still are ranked higher and have more experience so we’re going to look at it as a chance to play hard and also to learn.”

Unfortunately for Seo Seung Jae, the day began and ended with his losses.  In the opening match, he and Choi Sol Gyu were unable to find the form that saw them past Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (pictured) in Thailand in July.  In the last match, Seo and Chae Yoo Jung suffered their fourth loss in the past year to world #1 Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong, meaning that the mixed doubles will see a repeat of the World Championship final.

In addition to Kamura and Sonoda, fans of Japanese badminton will be able to watch World Champion Kento Momota (pictured bottom) on finals day.  He beat Parupalli Kashyap in straight games and will play defending champion Chou Tien Chen in the final.

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