KOREA GP 2010 Preview – China comes back early

Korea has been accustomed to having its own way at their late-season home event but the boost to Grand Prix status has brought a wave of tough challengers from China […]

Korea has been accustomed to having its own way at their late-season home event but the boost to status has brought a wave of tough challengers from China and beyond to test the mettle of Korea’s badminton stars when the Korea kicks off in Gimcheon tomorrow.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Korea was later than most in adding a lower profile international event to its Super Series entry on the badminton calendar.  While the inaugural Korea International Challenge, hosted in Suwon in 2007, was a rather typical field for its level, in the two years since, Korea has fielded its very best, despite the meagre US$15,000 total prize purse.  And the results have been predictable: Korea has swept every final spot since Tago Kenichi climbed to the runner-up spot in ’07 and players from abroad have shunned an event where they are likely to wind up facing a world top 10 player in the early rounds.

In fact, this year, the Badminton Korea Association even had the audacity to bill the tournament as a combination Grand Prix / national championship tournament.  However, ever since the entry list was published, the national championship title has disappeared from the documentation.  One possible reason is, not surprisingly, China.  With even world #10 Bao Chunlai (pictured), Asian Champion Li Xuerui, China Masters runners-up Bao Yixin / Lu Lu, along with past World Junior Champions Wang Zhengming and Tian Houwei, China stands a more than fair chance of depriving Korea of autumn gold at home in Gimcheon, a town whose name actually means ‘Golden Creek’ (金川).

Nor will China be the only external threat as Japan, Thailand, and Russia have added some capable shuttlers to the mix.  Still, the main story is Korea and several former stars, who now play internationally only rarely, will be competing in Gimcheon, along with almost the entire National Junior Team.

Men’s Singles

This is, of course, where China has the strongest chance.  But some of the neighbours from the west will have to prove themselves early.  Wang Zhengming gets things started off on the very first day, Tuesday evening, with his Round of 64 match against none other than Lee Hyun Il (pictured).  2009 World Junior Champion Tian Houwei will likely face Korean #2 Shon Wan Ho in the second round and the winner will likely be taking on veteran Park Tae Sang, who once upon a time beat Bao in the Athens Olympics.

Bao Chunlai himself should cruise right through to the semi-finals, after a quarter-final matchup that, on paper, should be against Russia’s Stanislav Pukhov.  However, Hwang Jong Soo and Lee Cheol Ho, runners-up from the last two Korea International Challenges, are in Pukhov’s quarter, as is Choi Ho Jin, the notorious left-handed one-hit wonder who beat Lin Dan last winter to win the East Asian Games gold.

One player who has an especially fortuitous draw is Japan’s Russia Open champion Takuma Ueda.  He starts against former top junior Park Sung Min, who still hasn’t followed in the footsteps of forerunners Park Sung Woo, Park Sung Bae, and Park Sung Hwan in achieving singles success for Korea.  Takuma’s major hurdle in reaching the quarter-finals will likely be either Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong or Korea’s Hwang Jung Woon.

Park Sung Hwan, meanwhile, will likely start against Youth Olympic gold medallist Pisit Poodchalat.  His quarter-final opponent should be 2006 World Junior Champion Hong Ji Hoon but Hong Kong’s Chan Yun Lung has demonstrated a talent for disruption, including a win over Lee Hyun Il earlier this year.

Unfortunately for Korea’s young hopefuls, there is a more than a fair chance that Park Sung Hwan could find himself in the semi-finals surrounded by Bao, Wang, and even Tian.

First round matches of note:
Lee Hyun Il (KOR) vs. Wang Zhengming (CHN)

Women’s Singles

The women’s singles draw has some very youthful seeds but there is plenty of experience to do some schooling in Gimcheon.  Top seed Bae Youn Joo is set to face Li Xuerui in the quarter-finals, but only if she can beat teammate Kwon Hee Sook, who beat her in the final two years ago.

Sung Ji Hyun has an even more dangerous quarter.  If she gets past Asian under-17 champion Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, she will have to win a rematch against China’s Suo Di, to whom she lost in Macau this past summer.  Her quarter-final opponent will likely be the winner of the first round match between veteran Hwang Hye Youn (pictured above) and Indonesia Grand Prix Gold champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand.

Thailand’s two other youngsters, Lao International winner Nitchaon Jindapol and Youth Olympic gold medallist Sapsiree Taerattanachai are in a lion’s den with Bitburger Open winner Liu Xin of China along with two mighty Korean veterans in Bae Seung Hee and Australian Open winner Seo Yoon Hee.

Russia’s Ella Diehl (pictured), seeded second, has no big-name players in her quarter but her very first match is against China’s Zhou Hui, who beat the Russian veteran at the Bitburger Open in September, if only by the narrowest of margins.

First round matches of note:
Bae Seung Hee (KOR) vs. Sapsiree Taerattanachai (THA)
Ella Diehl (RUS) vs. Zhou Hui (CHN)
Hwang Hye Youn (KOR) vs. Ratchanok Intanon (THA)

Men’s Doubles

The men’s doubles is the most likely to go according to seed.  Maneepong Jongjit and Bodin Issara of Thailand are likely to get another quarter-final shot at the mighty Jung Jae Sung / Lee Yong Dae (pictured), as they did last year in Hwasun but they will have to get past Singapore’s Chayut Triyachart / Hendri Kurniawan Saputra first. Vitalij Durkin / Alexandr Nikolaenko of Russia have a tricky first round match against Asian Junior Champion Kang Ji Wook and his new team-mate Choi Young Woo, with the winner likely to meet China’s Qiu/Liu in the quarter-final.

The bottom quarter is the toughest to call. Ko Sung Hyun / Yoo Yeon Seong will be hoping for another finals appearance against Jung/Lee.  However, three new, unseed home pairings are there as a result of domestic team affiliations.  Cho Gun Woo’s impending military duty has given him a new partner in Han Sang Hoon while Kwon Yi Goo will take up with Asian Games gold medallist Shin Baek Cheol.  Meanwhile, Chinese veteran Shen Ye and Hong Wei start their campaign against veteran Hwang Ji Man, who will be taking young Kim Ki Jung under his wing.

Early round matches of note:
R1: Vitalij Durkin / Alexandr Nikolaenko (RUS) vs. Kang Ji Wook / Choi Young Woo (KOR)
Shen Ye / Hong Wei (CHN) vs. Hwang Ji Man / Kim Ki Jung (KOR)
R2 (likely): Cho Gun Woo / Han Sang Hoon (KOR) vs. Kwon Yi Goo / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR)

Women’s Doubles

The women’s doubles is the one draw with surprisingly little depth, given the absence of Korea’s two retired Lees and only one Chinese pair in action.  Top-seeded Russians Valeri Sorokina / Nina Vislova may be hoping for a rematch against second-seeded Koreans Jung Kyung Eun / Yoo Hyun Young (pictured), who won their nailbiter at the Worlds in Paris, but they will have a stiff first challenge against Korean veterans Ha Jung Eun and Park Sun Young.  The winner of that match will likely take on Canadian Open semi-finalists Eom Hye Won / Kim Ha Na in the quarter-final.

The third seeds are American sisters Iris and Rena Wang but they will have their hands full with Asian under-17 champions Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan, while the strongest pair in the quarter will be waiting in the form of veterans Kim Min Jung and Yim Ah Young.

The bottom half of the draw should be a cake-walk to the semi-finals for both Jung/Yoo and for China Masters runners-up Bao Yixin / Lu Lu (pictured).

Early round matches of note:
R2: Valeri Sorokina / Nina Vislova (RUS) vs. Ha Jung Eun and Park Sun Young (KOR)

Mixed Doubles

As evidenced by the 6th Asian Games gold medal won yesterday, mixed doubles is a very strong discipline for the home team and even without both Lee Yong Dae and Lee Hyo Jung, Korea is still extremely strong in Gimcheon.  In addition to veterans Ko Sung Hyun / Ha Jung Eun (pictured below) and Kim/Yoo, Shin Baek Cheol, Han Sang Hoon and Hwang Ji Man are all partnering capable female partners and have a chance at finishing on the podium.

In fact, half of the seeds are Russians but both pairs have very tricky first tests against top young Koreans.  Second seeds Alexandr Nikolaenko / Valeri Sorokina start off against World Junior Championship runner-up Kang Ji Wook and fellow Cheju Island native Kim Ji Won, one of Korea’s most promising teenagers.  As for China, Qiu/Lu have a relatively easy draw but Hong/Bao are very likely to be stopped in the first round by Hang Sang Hoon / Jung Kyung Eun who won a national title together this past summer.

Early round matches of note:
R1: Hong Wei / Bao Yixin (CHN) vs. Han Sang Hoon / Jung Kyung Eun (KOR)
Vitalij Durkin / Nina Vislova (RUS) vs. Choi Young Woo / Eom Hye Won (KOR)
R2: Alexandr Nikolaenko / Valeri Sorokina (RUS) vs. Kang Ji Wook / Kim Ji Won (KOR)

For complete draws and results, CLICK HERE

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