KOREA MASTERS SF – An goes for a 5th, Sung for a second 4th

It will be an all-Korean women’s singles final at the Korea Masters, as An Se Young looks for her 5th title this year, while Sung Ji Hyun is hoping to […]

It will be an all-Korean women’s singles final at the , as An Se Young looks for her 5th title this year, while Sung Ji Hyun is hoping to win this title for the 4th time, as she did in Taipei in September.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Gwangju

There has never not been an all-Korean final in the autumn international tournament on the peninsula.  Even the last time it attracted players keen on winning Olympic qualification points, in 2011, there were 3 all-Korean finals, while Sung Ji Hyun found herself emerging from among 3 Chinese semi-finalists to win her first title.

Things started to make home fans a little uneasy when their 3 women’s doubles pairs were pared to just one in Friday’s quarter-finals.  Then semi-finals day opened with a loss by defending champions Choi Sol Gyu and Seo Seung Jae.

The Koreans lost a repeat of this year’s Chinese Taipei Open final to Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong (pictured above).  They got off to a great start in the opener and held on to win it, only to be beaten soundly in the second.  They clawed their way back from a worrying 12-19 in the decider to 19-20 but couldn’t save a third match point.

The last chance for Korea to lock up a final a day early was thus women’s singles.  17-year-old An Se Young (pictured left) may have had a 1-0 record against her semi-final opponent but that opponent was world #4 Akane Yamaguchi and the Korean youngster had to be considered the underdog.

However, she certainly didn’t play like one.  Yamaguchi made a late rally in the second game, catching up from 12-16 down to tie the game but An just upped the pressure when needed and snatched the next 5 points in succession, pushing and pulling the fleet-footed Japanese ace and forcing her into errors and weak replies.

In contrast to An, veteran Sung Ji Hyun (pictured right) came in with a ranking far exceeding that of her opponent but still a losing record against her.  However, today was a far cry from the 2017 Japan Open, when Saena Kawakami had beaten Sung in 3 games.

Sung Ji Hyun was at that time nearly a year into her title drought.  Now, of course, the Korean should be full of confidence after getting back to the top of a podium in Taipei in September but she subsequently sustained an injury in Denmark and had to sit out the French Open.

Still, this time, Sung Ji Hyun ruled the court against the young Kawakami, who turns 22 in a couple of weeks.  It took her just 36 minutes to see off her Japanese challenger 21-12, 21-10 and she will now have a chance to do what she accomplished in Taipei as well: become a four-time winner of this event.

“It’s been a very difficult tournament but I’m so happy to have made it to the final,” said Sung Ji Hyun.  “Especially since it’s an event at home, I will definitely do my best to win the title.

“All the Japanese players run the court well so I had to come prepared for a tough match,” said Sung of her reversal of her previous fortunes against Saena Kawakami (pictured left), “but today, I think my attacking shots penetrated well and I was able to win comfortably.

“I’m still playing with some pain after being injured last month but I’ve just had to bear it.  I am glad today didn’t go to three games, though.  That would have been tough.

Looking ahead to the possibility of meeting An Se Young in the final, Sung said, “Se Young runs well and makes very few mistakes so I need to be ready for a long and difficult match and I need to prepare myself to play well and without mistakes.

“It’s impossible for me not to feel pressure to beat one of my younger team-mates but we know each other well and I think we’ll both be ready to play a good match in the final,” she added, as the sounds of cheers from the crowd supporting An drifted out to the mixed zone.

For An Se Young, it marks the 3rd time she has competed in an international tournament in Korea and all 3 times, she has had to play against her team-mate Sung.  When they played in Incheon in September, Sung commented that there was so much support for her young team-mate that she had trouble believing she was playing a home tournament.

This time, it will truly be a home tournament for An Se Young, who was born and raised in Gwangju.  However, she may well be hoping for a better turnout on Sunday than the meagre numbers that provided support for the home shuttlers at Saturday’s semi-finals.

“I’ve played Se Young so many times but never in a final,” said Sung Ji Hyun.  “The biggest stage so far has likely been the semi-final at the Chinese Taipei Open and that match wasn’t televised live.  I hadn’t really thought of that but really, once we get on court, it will still be just me against her, like it always is, so my preparation won’t be any different.”

On the prospect of having to work for the first time to be one of Korea’s Olympic qualifiers, Sung said, “There is still some time before the close of qualification for the Tokyo Olympics so I’ll need to work hard and produce the results and hopefully I’ll be in the top 16 by the deadline.

“If Korea ends up with three players in the top 16, that would be a new situation because we’ve never had more than two.  In that event, I’m not sure what would happen.”

One all for Korea, one all for Japan

With women’s singles all wrapped up for the home team, and Sung and An set to play for their respective fourths, Lee So Hee and Shin Seung Chan took to the court also in search of a fourth Korea Masters title for each player.  The Koreans had won two together and each won one title separately with different partners.

But although the Koreans bounced back to win decisively in their second game, Olympic gold medallists Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured above) just would not surrender the lead in the decider.  Women’s doubles will in turn be an all-Japanese contest, as Nami Matsuyama / Chiharu Shida beat Hsu Ya Ching and Hu Ling Fang (pictured) in the other semi-final.

Chinese Taipei goes 1 for 4

Chinese Taipei is down to just one finalist in Gwangju.  Like last year, their last men standing will include Wang Chi Lin.  His punishing attacks helped see him and Lee Yang past Korea’s surprise semi-finalists Kim Won Ho and Park Kyung Hoon.

Hsu/Hu were unable to advance together and also separately as their respective mixed doubles pairings both suffered defeat in the final four.  In the quickest match of the day, Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet (pictured bottom) beat Hu and Yang Po Hsuan, while it took only a little longer for Goh/Lai of Malaysia to see off Hsu and Lee Jhe Huei.

Men’s singles will feature Kanta Tsuneyama (pictured right) in his first final of the year.  He beat Lu Guangzu in three games and will face Lin Dan for the title.

Lin Dan was an easy winner over compatriot Zhao Junpeng and will have a shot at his 4th different title on the Korean peninsula.  His first major title was the 2002 Korea Open, which was held not far from here in Yeosu, and since then he has won the Korea Open Superseries twice and the 2014 Asian Championships in Gimcheon, as well as the Asian Games gold in Incheon the same year.

Finals line-up
XD:  Tang Chun Man / Tse Ying Suet (HKG) [5] vs. Goh Soon Huat / Shevon Jemie Lai (MAS) [6]
WS:  Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) [5] vs. An Se Young (KOR) [7]
MS:  Kanta Tsuneyama (JPN) vs. Lin Dan (CHN)
WD:  Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [4] vs. Nami Matsuyama / Chiharu Shida (JPN)
MD:  Lee Yang Wang Chi Lin (TPE) [6] vs. Goh V Shem Tan Wee Kiong (MAS) [7]

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