Old faces rule in new Korean League

In the finals of the brand new Korean League, it was internationally retired top ten players Hwang Yu Mi and Jung Jae Sung who played the key roles as MG […]

In the finals of the brand new Korean League, it was internationally retired top ten players Hwang Yu Mi and Jung Jae Sung who played the key roles as MG Saemaeul and Samsung Electromechanics split the finals.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, live in Osan

Korea’s Dubai-bound badminton players struggled in the last two days of the inaugural Korean League, facing some talented and crafty veterans, while having to adapt to a modified scoring system with three games of fifteen points.  The shortened games was only one modification intended to shorten the team matches for television.  The other was to make each team tie consist of just three matches, two doubles and one singles in true Korean fashion.

In the women’s final, both Sung Ji Hyun and Kim Ha Na fell to veterans named Hwang.  Former women’s doubles star Hwang Yu Mi got things started for MG Saemaeul when she and Kim Min Kyung (pictured) beat team favourites Kim Ha Na and Shin Seung Chan.  Kim Ha Na has this rather ill luck just a week before she goes to Dubai to play in two disciplines at the Superseries Finals, although with her regular partners.  Meanwhile, it was a lousy birthday for Shin, who won two titles on her last finals day in Korea, though both by forfeit.

Things then looked dire for Samsung, which was treating both doubles matches as must-win situations as MG was fielding world #5 Sung Ji Hyun for the singles.  However, Sung was stunned when, after winning the first game, she watched veteran Hwang Hye Yeon race out to an 8-0 lead in the second.  Hwang Hye Yeon (pictured right with coach and men’s team player Jung Jae Sung) may not have a Korea Open title to her name but she is a former Asian Games and All England bronze medallist and scored wins over the two dominant players of her heyday, Xie Xingfang and Zhang Ning.

After evening the score at one game apiece, Hwang got almost as convincing a lead in the deciding game.  As she inched toward the win, her precision stayed true and she was hitting her net shots with such touch that one settled motionless on the tape, refusing to fall on one side or the other.  Sung hit the net trying to knock the shuttle off but the umpire called a let and Hwang served again.  She soon finished it off 10-15, 15-9, 15-10.

Eom Hye Won (pictured) then teamed up with Lee Jang Mi to take on veteran Park So Ri and 2013 World Junior Champion Chae Yoo Jung in the second doubles match.  The Samsung ladies did even the score in the first game but let it go and were unable to keep up in the second game with Eom’s expert shot-making.  Eom was named MVP of the women’s tournament.

Even with the slimline ties, the women’s final still wouldn’t conform to the broadcaster’s two-hour airtime allotment and the TV crew packed up and went home before the second match was over.

Samsung’s men eke out win

Lee Yong Dae was the only Dubai-bound shuttler to win a match in the finals.  In the semis, he and World Junior Champion predecessor Han Sang Hoon (pictured) beat Ko Sung Hyun and Eom Ji Gwan.  Shin Baek Cheol sat out the final weekend of the Korean League, as did Kim Sa Rang and Lee Dong Keun for their teams.

In the final, they started Samsung off with another straight-game win, this time over Han To Sung and Kim Duk Young of MG Saemaeul, who were looking for another win against Samsung after the women’s team had done it a day earlier.  Next up was a more recent World Junior Champion, 2013 boys’ singles winner Heo Kwang Hee (pictured below).  In the semi-final, he had been impressive, taking a one-game lead against Hong Kong Open champion Son Wan Ho before letting the world #4 even the score at one match apiece.

Heo was similarly impressive in the final, where he had to face none other than Lee Hyun Il.  This time he came back from a game down but again couldn’t take the decider.

The tie then came down to Kim Ki Jung and former world #1 Jung Jae Sung, now the women’s team coach.  Jung was Samsung’s best option in the absence of the injured Kim Sa Rang.

While Jung showed much of the brilliance of his former playing days, he did not have the consistency that would have allowed Kim and he to run away with the matches.  In the semi-final, their Gimcheon opponents had been one point away from putting an end to Samsung’s title hopes.  In the final, they were playing against Lee Sang Joon and 2007 World Junior Champion Chung Eui Seok.  The MG team put a lot of pressure on Jung and Kim and brought things to a thrilling extra-point finish in the second game before the favourites won 15-13, 19-17 to deliver the title for Samsung.

Most of the Korean players are now looking ahead to the national team selection tournament.  The singles players will be chosen next week, in a process from which Son, Sung, and Bae Yeon Ju are exempt.  The doubles players, including the eight who are going to Dubai next week, will be involved in the doubles selection event, which starts on December 26th in Hwasun.

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