KOREA GP 2014 QF – Malaysian marathoners lose in photo finishes

Lim Khim Wah and Ow Yao Han came up just short of beating the World Champions but instead joined 3 other compatriots who also lost marathon quarter-final matches at the Victor Korea Grand Prix in Jeonju on Friday.

Includes interviews with Park Keun Hye, Kim Hye Jeong, Nozomi Okuhara, Lim Khim Wah, and Vivian Hoo

Lim Khim Wah and Ow Yao Han came up just short of beating the World Champions but instead joined 3 other compatriots who also lost marathon quarter-final matches at the Victor Korea Grand Prix in Jeonju on Friday.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, live in Jeonju

The Malaysian team spent most of the day on Friday getting ready to celebrate.  The southerners did eventually get the chance to congratulate Vivian Hoo and Ng Hui Lin winning their match in 3 games but their 67 minutes was the shortest Malaysian match of the day.

Brand new pair Lim Khim Wah and Ow Yao Han (pictured) had the perfect opportunity to upstage their compatriots when they went the distance with none other than World Champions Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol but they let it slip away in the end.

“Today, I’m very sad because on the last two points, we just didn’t have enough confidence,” said Lim after the loss.  “We just didn’t think about our own game.  I think if we’d been more confident right at the end, we could have beaten them.

“I think this is still a good result because it is my first tournament with Yao Han so I feel good and I will prepare well for my next tournaments, in Hong Kong and Macau.”

Wong Fai Yin / Chow Mei Kuan had got things started for Malaysia by scoring 28 points in their first game against a pair of former Asian Junior Champions Choi Sol Kyu and Shin Seung Chan (pictured).  Alas, it wasn’t enough and although the Malaysians took the second game, the Koreans pulled ahead to win the decider 21-19.

Then it was Tan Kian Meng’s turn to score 26 in his decider against Kazumasa Sakai, only to see the Japanese veteran take the all important last two. Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin (pictured below) then had a chance to finish his match in two against unknown Korean Yim Jong Woo but instead let it run no less than 90 minutes before ceding the win to Yim.

In the womens’ doubles, Vivian Hoo and Ng Hui Lin (pictured below left) may have dropped the first game, but once it got to the decider, they spared their supporters all suspense by dominating from start to finish, which was a 21-8 finale for the new pair.

It may seem like an odd time for Vivian Hoo to be playing with a new partner, after she has won Commonwealth Games gold and also beaten two-time World Champions Wang/Yu with her former partner Woon Khe Wei.  However, she and Woon both came to Jeonju with brand-new partners and Hoo and Ng took one of four new pairs that are the result of a similar shuffle in the Korean camp.

“The Koreans also are experimenting with splitting even their world #7 pairing but I don’t think they have finalized anything and even our pairs are not confirmed yet.  This is still a testing period,” said Vivian Hoo, “so everything will be decided from next year.  Nothing is decided yet.”

Of course, on Hoo’s last trip to Korea she and Woon became only the 4th non-Chinese pair to beat the mighty Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang.  Despite not being able to follow this up with an appearance in the gold medal final, Hoo was satisfied with her Incheon outing.

“I think I’m quite happy with my performance in the Asian Games because we beat the Chinese pair.  It’s not easy to beat them and hardly any pairs have beaten them.  Because of that, I don’t feel any disappointment about not making it into the finals.”

On her first round win against similarly brand-new Choi Hye In / Kim Ha Na, Hoo said, “I think in terms of the combination, we did a bit better than them.  They looked a bit more confused, compared to us, so I think that’s why we beat them.”

But she denied that the Koreans in unfamiliar pairings gave opponents and advantage: “I don’t think it is that much easier.  Even in new pairings, those players all have strong points and it isn’t easy to make them commit errors.

“We’ll have to prepare tonight after we see who wins the other quarter-final.  I think whoever wins, it will be almost the same.”

Japanese and Koreans attempt to divvy up women’s gold

While Hoo and Ng are the sole exception to a Korean lock on the women’s doubles semi-finals, Japan did succeed in securing all four spots in the women’s singles final four.  The favourite would have to be Nozomi Okuhara (pictured below), who has already taken two Grand Prix titles this year.

“Of course I will be the champion this time,” said Okuhara.  “I am on the National B Team this year but I hope to make the A Team for next year.  I think I’m playing at a high level now but not high enough.  I always need to go higher.

“I injured both my right and left knee.  I would say that I have about 90% recovered.

“It is difficult when I have to play my team-mates.  The Japanese women’s singles players are all at the same level so if my condition is good, then I can win but if I’m a little off, I will lose so I don’t know whether I will win or lose.”

Young stars sparkle

The day ended with Jang Ye Na and Yoo Hae Won taking longer than expected to see off teenagers Park Keun Hye and Kim Hye Jeong (pictured below).  The two youngsters may have been slightly out of their depth on court but they still turn heads.  Kim is the spittin’ image of her mother who, as the host city’s first badminton daughter and 1992 Olympic gold medallist, is pictured on a life-sized banner on the gymnasium wall.  Park Keun Hye, on the other hand, in addition to being one of the top high school shuttlers in the country, also just happens to share her name with the nation’s president.

After merely making a good showing in the first game, the two teens actually took complete control in the second and forced their veteran opponents, one of them a former World Championship runner-up, to beat them in a third game.

“We knew that they are just in a league above us so we came into this match treating it as a learning opportunity,” said Park Keun Hye after the match.  “We were very surprised to win that second game.”

“I think they made a lot of mistakes in the second game and that gave us an opportunity,” said Kim Hye Jeong.  “It feels good to have a performance like this.  This is my mother’s hometown and my father used to play here as well so I had a lot of relatives in the crowd watching me today.

“Keun Hye was injured last year and so I was playing with Kong Hee Yong but now we are back playing together.  I hope we can play in the big junior tournaments together next year but I don’t feel like a title contender.  We are aiming for the semi-finals, though.”

Click here for complete quarter-final results

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