Korea dominates semi-final berths at the 2012 Korea Grand Prix Gold in Hwasun but Mohd Arif Abdul Latif led a trio of Malaysians into weekend action as winter snows crept across Korea on Friday.
Story and photos: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Hwasun
Korea looks set to dominate the doubles finals again but Malaysia and Indonesia have stepped up to fill the void left by China, who had given the home team a challenge the last two autumns.
Men’s singles top seed Mohd Arif Abdul Latif (pictured) had an easy Friday for the most part. He saw off local shuttler Yim Jong Woo in a pair of 21-16 games.
“I feel confident because I’m the top seed,” said Arif after his match, “but at the same time, there is more pressure. It’s especially difficult to have to play three Koreans in a row at home. It is also difficult for me when it so cold.
“I beat Park Sung Min yesterday. He had beaten me back in the World Juniors here in 2006. Now I play Lee Dong Keun and I have never played him.
“I hope I can continue to play well and reach my first final in a senior international tournament. I’ve been playing well lately but I hope I can make the top 32 in the world because it will make it a lot easier to play in the Superseries. My objective at this point, though, is the Asian Games in 2014.”
The southernmost court, #2, was good to Malaysians on Friday, in fact. After Arif, Sonia Cheah (pictured) stepped up for an easy win over Japan’s Miki Takagi. Then Goh V Shem and Ong Jian Guo fought back from a game down to win in three over Chinese Taipei’s Lin/Lu.
Tanongsak is back
Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (pictured below) had a much rockier road to the semi-finals. Chinese Taipei’s Shih Kuei Chun, who had beaten Tanongsak’s compatriot Boonsak Ponsana en route to the Thailand Open quarter-finals earlier this year, held match point in the second game today before the 22-year-old Thai found the spirit to snag four straight points to even the match at one game apiece.
Shih raced out to a 5-0 lead in the third game as well, only to watch Tanongsak rediscover the hunger and battle to the 21-19 victory.
“I think what changed for me later in this match was that I started to concentrate better,” said Tanongsak after the match.
“I had a couple of good results late last year, reaching the final of the Chinese Taipei Open and the SEA Games, but I’ve had trouble with my ankle. Now, though, I feel good and I hope that next year, I can make it into the world’s top 20.”
Tanongsak not only had to motivate himself during his quarter-final but he also had to come up with his own strategy, as he is in Hwasun without a coach.
“It is because I am an independent player. I’m not with the Thai Badminton Association and getting back with them is not an option. I’m doing okay on my own but I think I need a coach. I hope I can find one.”
A pair of tight ones for Indonesia
As with the only Thai victory, Indonesian shuttlers found that semi-final berths were not to come easy in Hwasun this year. First, Irfan Fadhilah / Weni Anggraini took on 2010 World Junior Championship runners-up Kang Ji Wook / Choi Hye In. The Indonesians let their concentration lapse after a drive they insisted skidded past the back line was called good, bringing up 19-20 for the Koreans.
However, the Malaysia Grand Prix Gold runners-up were the more consistent and they kept the advantage through the end of both games to win 24-22, 23-21.
Next, it was Aprilia Yuswandari’s turn. She dropped one game to Cheng Chi Ya of Chinese Taipei before taking the next two, one easily and one with great difficulty.
Korea looks for another doubles triple
Once again, the home team will be looking to lock up the doubles finals a day early. This is something they managed to do in 2010 but Singapore prevented from happening last December. This year, only one of the six doubles semi-finals is an all-Korean affair so on Saturday, Korea’s pairs will have to prove they deserve to be in those finals.
Liao Kuan Hao of Chinese Taipei managed to score two wins over Koreans in doubles on Friday. He and Chien Yu Chin take on mixed doubles top seeds and defending champions Yoo Yeon Seong / Jang Ye Na of Korea.
The local spectators made a tentative showing early in the day when Hwasun’s own Kim Dae Eun and Yoo Hae Won looked threatening against Shin Baek Cheol / Eom Hye Won before falling in three. Yoo and women’s doubles partner Ko A Ra advanced and play Eom/Jang in the semi-finals. Kim, on the other hand, lost out in the battle for Hwasun when Ko Sung Hyun was caught in the middle with three hometown boys (including also Lee Yong Dae and Kim’s partner Cho Gun Woo).
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