THOMAS AND UBER CUPS – 3rd singles is Koreans’ opportunity for exposure

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Korea's probable 3rd singles candidates: (from left) Park Sung Min (© Badmintonphoto), Hwang Jong Soo, Kim Hyo Min, Lee Min Ji

Korea’s National Team is choosing its oldest men and its youngest woman for the often crucial final singles spot at next month’s Thomas and Uber Cup competitions.

Story and photos by Don Hearn

Korean National Badminton Team Head Coach Lee Deuk Choon (pictured below) told Badzine this week that they will be going with age, if not necessarily with experience, in their singles selections for next month’s Thomas Cup in India.

“The entries for Badminton Asia Championships this year were based on rankings so we weren’t able, in each case, to select the same players we hope to send to the Thomas and Uber Cups,” said Lee, “but still, in the case of men’s singles, we will be sending the same four players to India: Son Wan Ho and Lee Dong Keun, of course, plus Hwang Jong Soo and Park Sung Min.

“We’re still waiting for the final okay, but our intention is to name all of our top doubles players, including Lee Yong Dae and Kim Ki Jung to the Thomas Cup team.”

The Koreans, naturally, have the utmost confidence in their men’s doubles.  Even if Lee Yong Dae and Kim Ki Jung (pictured below) have been out of competition for three months due to their recently overturned suspensions, any Thomas Cup victory will most probably rely on points from both doubles.  After all, no fewer than five combinations of Korea’s current top six doubles players have achieved Superseries titles in the past four years.

However, at the same time, Son and Lee are heavy underdogs against the top two singles players from the three past Thomas Cup-winning nations, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as Denmark and Japan.  In the event of a 2-all tie against any of these teams with strong singles, Korea will be looking to Hwang Jong Soo, the oldest singles player on the Korean national team.

Hwang’s age is not accompanied by the extensive experience that his contemporaries have under their belts.  Since reaching the final of the Korean International Challenge in 2009, he has been on and off the national team and spent the entirety of 2012 without competing internationally.  His semi-final run at the Asian Championships last week is testament to his ability, as are his recent victories over the likes of Xue Song and Rajiv Ouseph in other recent tournaments in Korea;  however, Hwang was denied the opportunity to play a sneak against by Sho Sasaki, another possible 3rd singles candidate.

“We’ve known since last year, that China was intending to have playing for them in the Thomas Cup and also the Asian Games,” said Lee Deuk Choon.  “In our case, we know that we are weak in the second and third singles anyway so it’s something we’ve been concerned about.”

The Uber Cup is a little different, as only China has a ranking edge in both the first and second singles.  Also, Korea is looking to two shuttlers only recently graduated from juniors to bat clean-up in India.

“For the Uber Cup team, we haven’t completely decided yet, but in addition to the obvious choices of Sung Ji Hyun and Bae Yeon Ju, our most likely women’s singles team will also include Kim Hyo Min and Lee Min Ji,” said Coach Lee.  “Lee Jang Mi was playing here this week, again, because she was ranked higher, but it is possible we will send Lee Min Ji instead to the Uber Cup Finals.

“The Thomas and Uber Cups are, we feel, a good chance to give playing experience to our young, up-and-coming singles players.”

Kim Hyo Min is the youngest member of the national team, while Lee Min Ji has also just turned 19.  Still, they will be getting a chance that will not be available to their counterparts like Heo Kwang Hee and Jeon Hyuk Jin, who distinguished themselves in junior boys’ events last year.

“It’s certainly going to be good experience for all of our second and third singles players and that’s what we’re hoping for: to get them the experience and the practice playing in such a high-level tournament.”

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