MALAYSIA MASTERS SF – Kim & Lee into first Super 500 final!

Kim Gi Jung and Lee Yong Dae again beat the odds, beating 2018 Malaysia Masters champions Alfian/Ardianto in the semi-finals to reach the first Super 500 final of their partnership. […]

Kim Gi Jung and again beat the odds, beating 2018 champions Alfian/Ardianto in the semi-finals to reach the first final of their partnership.

By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur.  Photos: Mark Phelan / Badmintonphoto (live)

Only one male player collected more titles in his career than Lee Yong Dae.  That rather obscure figure just happened to be in attendance on semi-finals day at the 2020 Malaysia Masters, at a venue where he won 8 of his 46 titles and where Lee Yong Dae won one of his 43.

Lee Chong Wei, of course, added one Malaysia Open Super 750 title to his collection after the Superseries ceased to exist.  At the time, Lee Yong Dae was less than a year into his retirement.  But for a year and a half now, Lee has been back, now partnering former world #2 Kim Gi Jung (pictured).  And wouldn’t you know that he too would pick Kuala Lumpur as the site of his first Superseries-level final since officially retiring right after winning the 2016 Korea Open.

Naturally, it was not as simple as ‘choosing’.  Kim and Lee caused a minor sensation in the summer of 2018 when they promptly won their first ranking tournament ever as a pair.  They added one more Super 300 that year, as well as upsetting the world #4 at the Korea Open and reaching that and one other Super 500 quarter-final.

But since then, things have been slow, particularly last year, when they managed only one Super 300 semi-final, in Switzerland.

Now it is indeed a new year and Kim and Lee say they feel it in every way, and with every match they play.  On Saturday in Axiata Arena, they played their first ever match against Indonesia’s Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto (pictured left).  The world #5 took the first game decisively after a 6-point run from 12-all and it looked as if the Koreans’ dream run might finally be over.

In the second game, the Koreans again led at teh interval but Alfian and Ardianto inched again with a 4-point run and closed in on the straight-game victory.  Kim and Lee stayed close, however, and Kim Gi Jung played clutch defense, while continuing to pounce on every opportunity to attack and he and Lee Yong Dae snatched it from the proverbial jaws of defeat, winning 21-19.

It the deciding game, the Koreans were again solid on defense while the Asian Games silver medallists became increasingly error-prone.  Kim and Lee led throughout and finally clinched their spot in the final.

“We consider this our first Superseries final and this is a very happy event for us, too,” said Lee Yong Dae after the match.  “And it also feels like for 2020 things have really changed.  With each match we play, we’re in the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals, and despite being in difficult situations, we’ve managed to win so we’re really happy about that.”

“We tried to play well so that our opponents would not be able to,” said Kim Gi Jung.  “In the second game, our game came through and we were able to do just that.”

On the change in preparation for the upcoming match against Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen (pictured left), Lee said, “The Indonesian players’ net play is really good so I think we came prepared to focus on that today.  In the case of the Chinese pair, they drive and smash well so we have to prepare for that.  They are also very tall so for us, if I can play well at the net to set things up, then it could be a good match.”

“In 2019, we were not able to show our best performances so our goal this year is to work hard to produce better performances that we could last year,” said Kim Gi Jung, when asked about their objectives for the new season.

Not only is it their first ever Super 500 final as a pair but the last time either played a Sunday at this level was the Korea Open in September 2016.  Incidentally, Kim Gi Jung’s last such final was a week earlier, when he was 2016 Japan Open runner-up in a scratch pairing with Ko Sung Hyun.  And it just so happens that the pair facing the Korean opponents in each of those finals was none other than Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen.

Li and Liu won the battle of the last two World Champions.  It was a much tighter match but when Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan (pictured right) looked ready to take charge, leading 13-10 in the deciding game, the Chinese players would not let go.  They fought to the end, saved two match points, and finally took it on their own second match point 24-22.

Li and Liu have not faced Kim and Lee in their current partnership but of course, they are the clear favourites for the final.  Then again, the world #36 Koreans have faced nothing but favoured pairs this week and have so far beaten four of them.

In men’s singles, the battle of the last two World Champions will happen in the final.  Semi-finals day ended with (pictured bottom) breaking Malaysian fans’ hearts by sending off Lee Zii Jia, the last local shuttler, in straight games.  The crowd had plenty to cheer for in the second game, as Lee gave valiant chase but what would have been the biggest upset of the year (so far!) was not to be, this time.

In the first men’s singles semi-final, Viktor Axelsen (pictured left) extended his winning streak over Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong to 8 straight matches.  Ng got a good start in the second game but Axelsen executed a 7-point run that left the Hong Kong shuttler playing catch-up and he never succeeded in quite catching up.

“I think today I controlled really well,” said Axelsen after the match.  “Even though I was behind and I was struggling a bit to find the right length on my shots, I stuck with it and it did work out.

“I’m really happy with my performance here and the fact that I have been able to practice 110% for many weeks now without breaks or injuries: that is super-important, that’s the most important thing for me.”

Ng Ka Long (pictured right) was also upbeat, despite the loss: “I was really satisfied with my performance, not only today, but throughout the whole tournament.  But one thing I can improve is to lower my unforced error record in the first game.

“I played too slow in the first game and I made many backcourt errors.  In the second game, I changed my strategy to speed up and trade more net shots with him.

“I’m very excited for the Indonesia and Thailand Masters now because I have had a good result here and I hope I can keep it up for the next two tournaments.”

There is now only one day left of the Malaysia Masters.  Apart from the women’s doubles, 11 of the 12 other shuttlers are current or former world #1s, while the 12th, Kim Gi Jung, has been as high as #2.  Get ready for 5 tough and exciting finals in Axiata Arena.

Finals line-up
WS:  Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [1] vs. Chen Yufei (CHN) [2]
WD:  Du Yue / Li Yinhui (CHN) [7] vs. Li Wenmei / Zheng Yu (CHN)
MD:  Li Junhui / Liu Yuchen (CHN) [3] vs. Kim Gi Jung / Lee Yong Dae (KOR)
XD:  Zheng Siwei / Huang Yaqiong (CHN) [1] vs. Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping (CHN) [2]
MS:  Kento Momota (JPN) [1] vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN) [5]

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 @