KOREA OPEN 2014 Preview – A little less wealthy but just as healthy

The Victor Korea Open will once again kick off the new Superseries season.  Even without the ‘Premier’ billing this time, it features a world-class field, including 3 defending champions looking […]

The Victor will once again kick off the new season.  Even without the ‘Premier’ billing this time, it features a world-class field, including 3 defending champions looking to add to their title collections as Lee Yong Dae goes for a 7th title and Zhao Yunlei and Yu Yang each vie for a 5th.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

2014 will see only a slightly trimmer Victor Korea Open Superseries.  It is only the 4th time this millennium that the event will not boast the highest prize purse in the entire badminton calendar and the first time it will not be among the top two.

After ceding the top spot to the Superseries Finals for its first two editions, from 2008 to 2009*, the Badminton Korea Association set a new standard for compensating its champions when it became the first million-dollar badminton event in 2011 and remained head and shoulders above the crowd until its Superseries Premier status expired last year.

Now, while remaining a standard Superseries event, the $US600,000 Korea Open is down to fourth spot in prize money behind the Indonesia, Australian, and China Opens.  But fortunately for the Korean organizers, neither the leaner purse nor the lower ranking points have made much of a dent in the quality of the field.

Lee Yong Dae (pictured) will be pursuing his seventh title, with a fourth partner, though he technically has a chance at adding two more titles to his total as he returns to the mixed doubles event at home for the first time since losing the final in 2012.  To even begin to think about a third mixed title, he will have to deal early with Xu/Chen, who denied him two years ago.

Zhao Yunlei (pictured top, with Zhang Nan) is herself in the hunt for a fifth title in five appearances and another defending champion, Yu Yang, is also looking for a fifth.  However, all three are still a long way off the record of nine titles, held jointly by Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min.  The Korea Open is in fact the only Superseries-level tournament, apart from the All England, that has had two 9-time winners in the years since Korea and China joined international competitive badminton in the early 80s.

The next generation

Yet another defending champion, Sung Ji Hyun, will be back to try for a third finals appearance.  Her 2013 title marked the first Superseries success by an offspring of a former Korean national team player.  However, 2014 will see the Korea Open debut of the child of a former champion.

Sung Ji Hyun’s parents may have won All England titles and Asian Games medals but they had both retired before the inaugural edition of their home Open, in 1991.  Four-time women’s doubles champion and 1992 Olympic gold medallist Chung So Young also has her heiress entered in the competition.  Chung’s daughter Kim Hye Jeong, who won two titles at last year’s Surabaya Cup, will get a tough initiation into the senior game just a few days after her 16th birthday with a first-round match against sixth-seeded Kakiiwa/Maeda of Japan.

A more credible 16-year-old threat is current World Junior Champion Akane Yamaguchi (pictured), who is favoured to come out of the qualifying rounds guns blazing.

East Asian isolation

The women’s doubles draw is interesting in that it pits the top three Korean and Japanese pairs in one half and the top three Chinese and top two Indonesian pairs in the other.  While China’s Indonesia Grand Prix Gold champion Luo sisters could upset their way into the final in the bottom half, the top will almost certainly belong to whichever Chinese pair can best their compatriots.

Second-seeded Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (pictured), on the other hand, will have a tricky second round, assuming they can get past the Indonesian #3’s in the first.  Their expected Thursday opponents will be the new pairing of Jung Kyung Eun and Shin Seung Chan, who have joined forces while their respective former partners recover from injuries.

While youngsters Kim Hye Jeong / Kong Hee Yong will be purely out to get experience against Kakiiwa/Maeda, newly-crowned World Junior Champions Chae Yoo Jung / Kim Ji Won will be holding out a ray of hope for a first-round upset over their predecessors Bao Yixin and Tang Jinhua, WJC winners in 2010 and 2009 respectively.

First round women’s doubles matches of note:

Misaki Matsutomo / Ayaka Takahashi (JPN) [2] vs. Anggia Shitta Awanda / Della Destiara Haris (INA)
Duanganong Aroonkesorn / Kunchala Voravichitchaikul (THA) [4] vs. Nitya Krishinda Maheswari / Greysia Polii (INA)
Bao Yixin / Tang Jinhua (CHN) [5] vs. Chae Yoo Jung / Kim Ji Won (KOR)

Sung looks for a second

The women’s singles field started without world #1 Li Xuerui and lost the likes of Saina Nehwal and Juliane Schenk before the seeding was done but there is still no lack of talent, with 3 past winners, led by defending champion Sung Ji Hyun (pictured).  The other two, of course, are Wang Shixian and Wang Yihan, who are also both former world #1 shuttlers.

At first glance, it may seem that Sung dodged a bullet in the draw, as the two Wangs are on track for a semi-final encounter in the opposite half.  However, not only is Sung in a quarter with Japan’s top three players, but if she makes it to the semi-finals, she will have to contend with the fittest who survives a quarter with Thailand’s two top ten players, China’s Suo Di and Han Li, and likely even Japan Open champion Yamaguchi.

First round women’s singles matches of note:
Wang Yihan (CHN) [3] vs. Busanan Ongbamrungphan (THA)
Tai Tzu Ying (TPE) [6] vs. Yip Pui Yin (HKG)
Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (THA) [7] vs. Akane Yamaguchi (JPN) (probable)

Lee and Chen with tricky first tests

Korea’s Son Wan Ho is now ranked in the men’s singles top 28 and can dispense with playing qualifying rounds at Superseries events.  For the Korea Open, though, it was a bunch of cancellations that paved his way to the main draw.  However, he is the unluckiest of the bunch as he must face none other than three-time champion Lee Chong Wei in the first round.  Son has beaten Lee on one occasion, of course, but if there is one thing that Korea’s shuttlers have learned, it is not to count on much crowd support on a Wednesday in January.

Once again, Lee’s major threat comes from Chen Long but Chen, too, might face a tricky first round against compatriot Gao Huan (pictured), the man who ousted another favoured Chen – 2010 World Champion Chen Jin – from the first round of last year’s Korea Open.  As the top seed in qualifying, however, Gao stands a good chance of being promoted early and away from Chen, should any shuttler withdraw on the eve of the tournament.

First round men’s singles matches of note:
Lee Chong Wei (MAS) [1] vs. Son Wan Ho (KOR)
Tommy Sugiarto (INA) [3] vs. Tian Houwei (CHN)
Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka (INA) vs. Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk (THA)
Kento Momota (JPN) vs. Lee Dong Keun (KOR) (probable)

Not all clear for Lee’s 5th

Even with men’s doubles world #1 Hendra Setiawan and new father Mohammad Ahsan staying in the tropics this January, Lee Yong Dae and new partner Yoo Yeon Seong are far from assured of the Korea Open title.  The key stumbling block is no doubt top seeds Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen (pictured).

The fact that Lee/Yoo won their opener against the Danes on the latter’s home courts in October is not to be trusted as a predictor.  Boe/Mogensen have made a habit of defying the odds to deal Lee Yong Dae crushing defeats and they are the only pair present this year that has won the Korea Open title in the past.

Superseries Finals runners-up Kim Ki Jung / Kim Sa Rang will by looking forward to a path to the final not blocked by their favoured compatriots, as it was in two past editions.  Instead, they share their half of the draw with all three Chinese pairs, including the scratch pairing of Fu Haifeng and Hong Wei.

Koo Kien Keat / Tan Boon Heong will have to prove their worth early against yet another strong young Korean pairing.  Former Asian Junior Champions Kang Ji Wook and Choi Sol Kyu (pictured) reached the semi-finals at the Korea Grand Prix Gold and they will be keen to see if they can be the next Korean pair to trouble the Malaysian veterans.

The other half of the 2013 champion pair, Ko Sung Hyun, is currently doing his basic training with the Korean military (see here) and his new partner Shin Baek Cheol will be paired with Lee Sang Joon for the winter, at least.

First round men’s doubles matches of note:
Liu Xiaolong / Qiu Zihan (CHN) [3] vs. Mads Conrad-Petersen / Mads Pieler Kolding (DEN)
Goh V Shem / Lim Khim Wah (MAS) [8] vs. Chris Adcock / Andrew Ellis (ENG)
Fu Haifeng / Hong Wei (CHN) vs. Vladimir Ivanov / Ivan Sozonov (RUS)

Chinese mixed domination set to continue

As in the men’s doubles, the mixed doubles will not feature the World Champion pair from Indonesia.  Also missing are three-time Superseries Finals champions Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen.

This should pave the way for continued domination by the Chinese, who have ruled the roost in this event ever since the Korean defending champions were ousted in the first round of the 2010 edition of the Korean Open.  Two-time defending champions Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei will get the chance to stamp their main challengers out early.  Shin Baek Cheol / Eom Hye Won (pictured), one of only two Korean pairs ever to beat the Olympic champions, are their first round opponents.  Korea’s other fancied pair, Yoo/Jang, will likely await the winner in the second round.

The other threat to the Chinese top seeds looms in the form of a possible semi-final clash with Chris and Gabrielle Adcock (pictured).  Not only did the English pair get the better of Zhang/Zhao in Hong Kong late last season, but Adcock and his previous partner dealt the two a first-round upset in 2012, the last time the Chinese favourites showed up as defending champions.

2012 winners Xu Chen / Ma Jin also face an early test from the home team as two-time mixed doubles champion Lee Yong Dae and his new partner Shin Seung Chan are their likely second round opponents.  But with the Korean pairing still unproven and the likely withdrawal of 4th-seeded Malaysian Goh Liu Ying due to injury, Xu and Chen may well be duking it out with their unseeded compatriots Liu/Bao for a spot in the mixed doubles final.

First round mixed doubles matches of note:
Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1] vs. Shin Baek Cheol / Eom Hye Won (KOR)
Lee Chun Hei / Chau Hoi Wah (HKG) [6] vs. Irfan Fadhilah / Weni Anggraini (INA)
Liu Cheng / Bao Yixin (CHN) vs. Kenichi Hayakawa / Misaki Matsutomo (JPN)

Badzine will be on site all week at the 2014 Victor Korean Open Superseries and will attempt to provide quality coverage.  We will be bringing you quality live photos from Badmintonphoto.

Click here to download the complete draws from the BWF website

*  The 3rd edition of the US$500,000 Superseries Finals, though it capped off the 2010 season, technically was not played until January 2011, a calendar year in which it was outdone by the 2011 Victor Korea Open Superseries Premier’s US$1.2 million in prize money.

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