KOREA GP 2010 – Size does matter?

The singles quarter-finals at the Korea Grand Prix in Gimcheon was a case of survival of the…tallest as Thailand’s challenge ended and Korea was left with two young challengers to […]

The singles quarter-finals at the Korea in Gimcheon was a case of survival of the…tallest as Thailand’s challenge ended and Korea was left with two young challengers to Chinese dominance.

Story and photos: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Gimcheon.

The trend wasn’t yet abundantly clear when Choi Young Woo and Eom Hye Won powered their way past Malaysia’s Ong/Chong to win the first match of the afternoon.  But soon, the towering Hong Wei / Bao Yixin (pictured) came from one game down to oust Korea’s Hwang Ji Man / Park Sun Young.  Then it became clear that it wasn’t just Chinese strength that would form the pattern as lanky Russians Nikolaenko / Sorokina pulled off their own comeback to justify their seeded position with a three-game win over the dimunitive Qiu/Lu.  Finally, Korean veterans Kim Min Jung / Yoo Yeon Seong kept alive their hopes of a first ever international title with a win over their (shorter) compatriots Um/Sun.

The women’s singles could, of course, be considered just a case of China strutting its stuff in one of the disciplines it owns outright.  But on the other hand, the Koreans and Thais have had their successes of late against the Chinese and Friday in Gimcheon was no exception.  First up was Bae Youn Joo, who looked strong and confident in her first-game win over Li Xuerui and appeared set to take the first meeting on the senior circuit between the two twenty-year-olds.

As expected, Bae became the latest in a long line of top Korean players to be cheated of the home court advantage that should manifest itself in crowd support.  With most of the population at work or school and any available sports fans likely to be following the final days of the Asian Games, the handful of ordinary spectators were barely noticeable among the players and staff in the hall.

However, Li felt Bae was getting a different kind of home-court advantage and called for the tournament referee when her cross-court smash was called out on Bae’s forehand sideline.  The umpire confirmed it was in and Li got her head together and finished the very next rally with an early, decisive smash to go up 19-18.  It took Li extra points to tie the match at one game apiece, but Bae fell apart in the third game and just could not find the lines, gifting Li with the 13-21, 22-20, 21-8 victory.

Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon (pictured above) has been producing upset after upset this year and Korea’s veterans have been among her victims.  She beat Bae Seung Hee earlier this year and began her campaign in Gimcheon with a win over former national champion Hwang Hye Youn.  She used both power and deception to stay close early in her match with Sung Ji Hyun (pictured) but the tall Korean, four years Ratchanok’s senior at only 19, soon began moving her around at will and soon came out on top 21-13, 21-9.

Youth Olympic gold medallist Sapsiree Taerattanachai produced some unbelievable badminton even as she trailed behind China’s Liu Xin but she just couldn’t finish enough of the rallies.  Not, that is, until the end of the second game.  Sapsiree made an incredible comeback from 12-19 down to tie at 20-all and send the game into extra points.  Alas, though, it was too little too late and Liu advanced to the semi-finals with the 21-14, 23-21 victory.

Liu is to face compatriot Zhou Hui, who kept ahead of Indonesia’s last representative Fransiska Ratnasari 21-18, 21-16.  Zhou is just as tall as the other two girls but she is the only Chinese singles player without a pedigree from junior events in the past few years, her three team-mates in Gimcheon accounting for three of the last four Asian Junior titles.  Still, she has been no slouch on the senior circuit, finishing runner-up at the Vietnam Grand Prix and reaching the semi-finals at the Bitburger Open.

Big Man’s Singles

Men’s singles was dominated not so much by the big names as by, again, the big men, as there will be only one semi-finalist under six feet.  Choi Ho Jin showed some great spirit early in his match against the towering #1 seed Bao Chunlai but once again failed to produce the magic that gave him his fifteen minutes of fame, oh and an East Asian Games gold medal.  Bao was never really in trouble and closed it out 21-11, 21-6.

Wang Zhengming (pictured) was up next and though his height advantage may have been only slight, he definitely had the upper hand throughout the match against Thailand’s Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, winning both games 21-14.

Thailand’s other hopeful, Youth Olympic gold medallist Pisit Poodchalat, was also held to the same score in both games, in his case to ten points only in each of his two short games with Korea’s Lee Dong Keun.  Lee has now surpassed his quarter-final mark from the Canada Open to reach his first international semi-final since the World Junior Championships in 2008, which were won, incidentally, by Wang Zhengming, Lee’s next opponent.

Russia Open winner Takuma Ueda (pictured) had been doing some quality training with Japan’s national B team in advance of this Korean Grand Prix and it has paid off.  He eliminated third seed Shon Wan Ho to advance to a semi-final showdown with the mighty Bao Chunlai.  Shon was precise and patient in the first game but he just couldn’t hold on at the end and allowed Ueda to draw level and eventually to snag the game.  The Korean then seemed to fall apart in the second game while Ueda remained consistent and came away with the 24-22, 21-12 victory.

Doubles: Home teams rule the roost

If Chinese dominance and height advantages were the rule in singles and mixed, the men’s and women’s doubles finally broke the paradigm.  The most obvious example was the loss by top-seeded women’s pair Sorokina/Vislova.  Both of the Russians’ games against young Eom Hye Won / Kim Ha Na (pictured) were quite close. Vislova felt they were a little too close, however, and took out her frustration at a line call by firing the shuttle into the signboard right beside the offending line judge’s leg.   The umpire did not see the outburst but either way, the venting did not permit the Russians to take back the momentum in the opening game.  Things remained close in the second but despite a late rally, Eom/Kim tooke the match 21-16, 21-19.

Two other semi-final spots went to the winners of all-Korean quarter-finals and when the dust cleared, it became apparent that not one of the six Korean semi-finalists is over 20.  However, while Thailand’s Ratchanok may be accustomed to being the youngest player in the tournaments she enters these days, she was not today and it was 14-year-old Kim Hyo Min and 15-year-old Park So Young who were charged with trying to scale the Chinese women’s doubles wall.  Bravely though they tried, it was Bao and Lu enjoying an easy pair of 21-11 games.

In the men’s event, Lee Yong Dae (pictured) was playing without tape on his elbow, unlike even at the recent Asian Games.  This will be a welcome sight to his fans, who have had more than a year of worrying about the progress if his recovery from injury.  Lee and Jung Jae Sung put on a show against Singapore’s Chayut Triyachart / Hendri Kurniawan Saputra.  The Koreans’ power and speed, along with Jung’s trademark leaping, deceptive drops, gave the edge to the home team and though Triyachart/Saputra threatened late in the second, a final serve into the net sealed the win for Jung/Lee.

Ko/Yoo, Korea’s number two pair, and finalists at last year’s International Challenge in Hwasun, made quick work of Cho/Han, the new pairing for Korea’s military team.  They will take on Malaysia’s Goh/Teo, also winners over their compatriots Hoon/Abdul Latif.

It was a tense and thrilling second game between the Malaysian pairs, though with no supporters, it was a shame that such top-notch badminton was overshadowed by the volunteers’ desire to head home after a long day and so Goh/Teo got some support for the wrong reasons.  Still, the spirit and talent of the two pairs from the south won over all those remaining in the hall and they deserved the sparse but genuine applause they got when Goh/Teo finally nabbed their 26th point in the second game.

For complete 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