KOREA OPEN 2013 Preview – Season to open with final premier

The 2013 badminton season kicks off early next month with the Victor Korea Open in its final edition as a Superseries Premier event.  Once again it seems to be up […]

The 2013 badminton season kicks off early next month with the Victor in its final edition as a Premier event.  Once again it seems to be up to two Lees to block the coming onslaught from China, which may have its best chance yet of sweeping the gold in Korea.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

In three of the first six years of the BWF Superseries, China has left the Korean peninsula with all but one title.  In 2007 and 2010, it was Lee Yong Dae (pictured) and Jung Jae Sung who took the fifth and the last time, it was left to Lee Chong Wei to prevent a sweep when Korean competitors came up short in three finals.

2013 is bound to be more of the same with China sending three Olympic champions and two Superseries Finals winners.  Lee Chong Wei is once again the top seed in men’s singles but again it is the men’s doubles that is the most difficult to call.

The Korea Open is once again offering total prize money of US$1,000,000, which means that singles champions will walk away with cheques for $90,000 and the event returns to the SK Handball Gymnasium at Seoul’s Olympic Park, for the 5th time in 7 years.  Organizers are counting on the venue’s 5,000 seats to be filled only with local spectators as overseas advanced ticket sales are virtually impossible and in fact the very reasonable ticket prices have only been published in Korean.

The sure thing

On one hand, women’s doubles will belong to China until someone can unseat Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang.  On the other hand, we saw last year that this is not enough, as Ha Jung Eun and Kim Min Jung did just that in the semi-finals only to remain winless against the only slightly less invincible Tian/Zhao in the final.  The complication this year is that two of the three pairs who have ever beaten Wang and Yu in a complete match have been disbanded (Tian/Zhao) or are completely inactive (Ha/Kim).

That leaves Jung Kyung Eun and Kim Ha Na (pictured) – whose ‘win’ over Wang/Yu at the Olympics was complete, if only in terms of points – and they have been away from international competition since London.  Jung and Kim can only stay in the draw if they are granted the reprieve the Korean Olympic Committee that was applied for last month (see related article here) and if they do, their first big test may well be beating Bao Yixin with her new, experienced partner Tian Qing.

In other words, Wang and Yu will continue their dynasty unless injury or a miracle upset intervene, although an upset by newly-reunited former world #1’s Cheng Shu and Zhao Yunlei would be considered impressive but not miraculous.  Also, the world has yet to see how the new pairings of Ma/Tang and Bao/Tian will stack up against the world’s best in the long run.

First round matches of note:
Christinna Pedersen / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN) [2] vs. Pia Zebadiah Bernadeth / Rizki Amelia Pradipta (INA)
Narissapat Lam / Saralee Thoungthongkam (THA) vs. Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR)
Poon Lok Yan / Tse Ying Suet (HKG) vs. Meiliana Jauhari / Greysia Polii (INA)

The toss-up

The Korea Open men’s doubles title has bounced around among three pairs since the dawn of the Superseries era.  If it weren’t for Cai Yun’s recent injury problems – and even to Mathias Boe’s illness in Copenhagen – all expectations would be for one of the Olympic finalists to take the title in Seoul.

If such a rematch were to pit the 2009 champions Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen (pictured top right) against the two-time defending champions Cai/Fu (pictured right), it would be in the semi-finals.  In fact, China’s three best pairs are all packed into the same half of the draw along with the favoured Danes.

The other wrench in such works is in the form of Ko Sung Hyun and Lee Yong Dae.  With their four titles in three months, the Koreans have already shot up to the #18 spot in the world rankings and have beaten Cai/Fu.  Once again, Lee Yong Dae is by far Korea’s best hope for a title at home.  Unfortunately, Denmark Open winners Shin Baek Cheol and Yoo Yeon Seong will not be among the contenders as Yoo began his month of basic training on Christmas Eve to kick off his two years of military service.

First round matches of note:
Cai Yun / Fu Haifeng (CHN) [3] vs. Lee Sheng Mu / Tsai Chia Hsin (TPE)
Kim Ki Jung / Kim Sa Rang (KOR) [5] vs. Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan (INA)
Chai Biao / Zhang Nan (CHN) vs. Yonathan Suryatama Dasuki / Hendra Aprida Gunawan (INA)

The long shot

Like in the women’s doubles, it would seem foolish to bet on any but a Chinese player taking the women’s singles title.  Still, late in 2012, we have already seen the pattern broken once when the Denmark Open final did not feature a Chinese player.

This time, several of the hopefuls are in one quarter, where Tine Baun, Juliane Schenk, Cheng Shao Chieh, and Minatsu Mitani will battle amongst themselves to see who will emerge into a semi-final round that could well be stacked with three Chinese competitors.

World #1 and Olympic champion Li Xuerui should sail into the final.  However, she may first have to prove that her loss to Sindhu P.V. (pictured) at the China Masters this fall was a fluke, as Sindhu will be hoping to win her India Grand Prix Gold final rematch against Lindaweni Fanetri in the first round in Korea.

It is coming up on eight years since Korea last won a women’s singles title at its home Open.  The good news for Sung Ji Hyun and Bae Yeon Ju (pictured right) is that each will get her first chance to prove herself against the Chinese player against whom she has the best record.

The bad news is that this still entails, for Sung, beating Jiang Yanjiao and for Bae, beating the mighty Wang Yihan, which she hasn’t done since their second meeting nearly two years ago.

First round matches of note:
Wang Yihan (CHN) [2] vs. Bae Yeon Ju (KOR)
Ratchanok Intanon (THA) [6] vs. Tai Tzu Ying (TPE)
Lindaweni Fanetri (INA) vs. P. V. Sindhu (IND)

Lee to stand alone?

With three-time men’s singles champion Lin Dan on sabbatical and past winners Peter Gade and Lee Hyun Il having retired, the only returning champion Lee Chong Wei (pictured below) is an even heavier favourite than he would ordinarily be to take his third title in Korea.

However, Lee’s withdrawal from the Superseries Finals earlier this month does cast some doubt on his ability to finish strong in the bitter cold of the Korean winter.

Nor will Lee be able to ease into the first competition of the year as his first round opponent is none other than China Open runner-up Wang Zhengming.  The gauntlet continues with a probable match against Hu Yun in the quarter-finals and then possibly Chen Jin in the semis.

All of that, of course, would come before an expected final with the now mighty Chen Long.  Chen has never won in Korea but going by recent form, that is bound to change this time around.  Chen may still be put through his paces, however, with the likes of Du Pengyu, Kenichi Tago, and Hans-Kristian Vittinghus in the same half of the draw.

The home team is reeling from not only the retirement of 2008 champion Lee Hyun Il but also the injury and then departure for the army of Indian Open winner Son Wan Ho.  In fact, not only are there no Koreans in the main draw, but also, one of the brighter hopes, Korea Grand Prix Gold champion Lee Dong Keun (pictured right), was ranked too low at the entry deadline to even make it off the reserve list.  Lee will be hoping for two more withdrawals to make that happen.

First round matches of note:
Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [1] vs. Wang Zhengming (CHN)
Taufik Hidayat (INA) vs. Viktor Axelsen (DEN)
Kenichi Tago (JPN) [5] vs. Jan O Jorgensen (DEN)

Mixed doubles – A new dynasty in town

China had won only a single mixed doubles title in the fifteen editions of the Korea Open Prior to the Superseries era.  This was largely thanks to the likes of Park Joo Bong, Ra Kyung Min, and Kim Dong Moon, as well as a collection of Danes in the early days, but Korea’s success in mixed continued past their careers both at home and internationally.

Last year, Lee Yong Dae went to the mixed doubles for a third time but instead of recapturing Korean glory, it was Xu Chen and Ma Jin who took a third straight for China, a fourth in the six Superseries years.

Unfortunately for the home team, things look even bleaker this year.  Ko Sung Hyun and Lee Yong Dae are both out of the category and Korea’s top pairs in mixed and women’s doubles have been sidelined with Jang Ye Na’s ankle injury.  China, meanwhile, looks as strong as ever, with twin powers Xu/Ma and Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (pictured) back for more and also French Open runners-up Qiu Zihan / Bao Yixin looking for another good result in their second tournament together.

Still, the draw could have been easier for the 2010 winners Zhang/Zhao.  They start against former World Champion Kamilla Rytter Juhl and her new partner, Mads Pieler Kolding.  But while Zhao still holds the advantage over Rytter Juhl in mixed, at least, the Olympic champions still have in their half of the draw 3 of the 4 pairs against whom they have losing records.  Foremost among them are Superseries Finals winners Joachim Fischer Nielsen / Christinna Pedersen (pictured below), who will most likely have to play All England champions Ahmad/Natsir in the quarter-finals.

Xu and Ma should have an easier time reaching the final.  The only pair in their half of the draw who have beaten them are Malaysia’s Chan/Goh, who will have to get past either Qiu/Bao or Prapakamol/Thoungthongkam to even ttreach the semis.

First round matches of note:
Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [4] vs. Mads Pieler Kolding / Kamilla Rytter Juhl (DEN)
Kim Ki Jung / Jung Kyung Eun (KOR) vs. Danny Bawa Chrisnanta / Vanessa Neo (SIN)
Songphon Anugritayawon / Kunchala Voravichitchaikul (THA) vs. Shin Baek Cheol / Eom Hye Won (KOR)

Click here to download the complete draws

Badzine will be on site in Seoul throughout the competition to bring you live reports and photos direct from Badmintonphoto

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