KOREA OPEN 2015 SF – Winning in Korea: Hooked on a feeling?

Asian Games champions Maheswari and Polii were one of six Korea Open finalists who were in a final in their last outing on the peninsula and among four looking for […]

Asian Games champions Maheswari and Polii were one of six finalists who were in a final in their last outing on the peninsula and among four looking for consecutive titles.

By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seoul.  Photos: Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto (live)

A quick look at the line-up for finals day at the 2015 Korea Open reveals that there are three defending champions going into their Sunday matches as heavy favourites to retain their titles.  However, slightly less obvious is the fact that all five finals have at least one player who was a finalist or a champion on their last visit to Korea.

In fact, the most competitive women’s doubles contest on Saturday featured two such pairs, neither of them defending champions at the event.  Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari left Korea as gold medallists at the close of the 2014 Asian Games last September in Incheon.

But their opponents, too, had left with a title on their previous visit.  Luo Ying and Luo Yu won the Badminton Asia Championships in Gimcheon in April of last year and it was they who came to Seoul this September as the highest-ranked pair, with the last-minute withdrawal of the top seeds.

The Indonesians were riding high after their decisive win over the former World Champions in the quarter-finals.  They took that momentum into this match and snapped up the first game 21-18 but couldn’t catch the twins in the second.  They totally dominated the deciding game however, and booked their spot in the final.

“For Nitya and myself, we just want to focus on our game, not on the result and we just want to keep improving,” said Greysia Polii after her win.  “Even if we lose, losing is a way to learn.  Today, I think we were more ready than the Chinese pair.

“We train hard and we just keep trying to beat Chinese.  Even if we fail a hundred or a thousand times against them, we will still try.  I think we are still improving and we hope to peak for the Olympics for sure.  But we will just continue trying whether we are against the Chinese or whoever, whether it’s #1, #2, or #3 in the world, we have nothing to lose.  We just don’t want to lose confidence.”

On what makes their world #2 opponents so strong, Polii said, “They have the confidence, the aura, that we are the Chinese.  We don’t want to lose our confidence against them.

“Their technique, their physical attributes, they are almost the same as us but they have the aura.  Zhao and Tian have the Olympic and World titles so they have maybe more aura than Luo/Luo but we are just trying to show that we are the same standard as them.”

Greysia Polii is now in her second Korea Open final, her first being way back in August, 2006, shortly before the Superseries was inaugurated.  The Indonesian ace stopped short of agreeing that Korea was a lucky place in light of her two finals, Asian Games gold, and even the semi-final appearance at the Korea Open last year: “Well, I want to manage my expectation.  I just want to enjoy the game tomorrow.  After the final, you can ask me again,” she said with a laugh and also a gleam in her eye.

This will be the first Korea Open women’s doubles final without a Chinese pair since 2009, when the Chinese national team did not participate and two semi-retired Chinese pairs were both beaten in the semis.  In the other semi-final on Saturday, Jang Ye Na and Lee So Hee beat their compatriots Shin Seung Chan and Jung Kyung Eun.

Two big wins for Korea

Asian Games mixed doubles gold medallist Zhang Nan had a chance at two finals in Seoul this weekend but his effort in men’s doubles did not bear fruit and this weekend will not see a repeat of last week’s Japan Open final.

Zhang and Fu Haifeng were beaten in three tough games by Kim Sa Rang and Kim Ki Jung, who will now face their compatriots in the first all-Korean final at the Korea Open since its first Superseries edition in 2007.

“We are so happy about winning,” said Kim Sa Rang after the match.  “It was hard to get there but we came out on top in the end.

“We are happy about beating these two top teams but in each case it’s just one victory.  The next time we meet them we have to try and make sure we don’t lose easily.”

“The wind and everything about the tournament seemed perfectly suited to us,” said Kim Ki Jung.  “Our game is mostly based on drive rallies so the wind doesn’t really affect our game as much as it does the other players.”

Of their world #3 opponents, he said, “Zhang Nan is the world #1 in mixed doubles and he is of course an amazing player.  With shots in the mid-court and on the sides, he seems to be just one step faster than any other player and then Fu Haifeng has such a strong attack from the backcourt.

On their prospects for the final, Kim Sa Rang said, “This is a team we play and train with all the time so we all know each other’s games so well.  We just have to analyse what we can do against them tomorrow and prepare for a good match.

“Of course we’ve played Lee and Yoo in tournaments but also so much in training so depending on how our condition is once we get on court, we’ll see how it turns out.

“We know our team-mates have so much experience and so many accomplishments so we don’t have any reason to be nervous.  We just have to concentrate on playing the match with our own style.”

Asked what their record was against Lee and Yoo in training, Kim Ki Jung grinned, “We lose just about all the time.”

Sung Ji Hyun will play in her third Korea Open final on Sunday after she outlasted Akane Yamaguchi in a 70-minute marathon.  She put together a 5-point run from 14-16 down in the deciding game and the Japanese youngster couldn’t catch back up

“Today it was a really tough match but I was lucky I was able to get ahead at the end and win,” said Sung Ji Hyun after the match.  “Yesterday’s match finished really late and then I had to get back on court again today.  Yamaguchi runs the court so well so endurance-wise it was a really tough match but right at the end, things went my way so I think that was lucky.

“Yamaguchi beat me last week when we played in Japan but now I’ve beaten her in Korea so I feel it’s sort of like payback.”

On one rally late in the match, that left her lying on the floor and slow to get back up, Sung said, “That was a really long rally and it was really gruelling, then finally her shot went out and I just went ‘Wheew, Aaigoo, that was lucky!’  That’s all I was thinking when I was lying there, that it was just so exhausting.”

She goes on to face two-time defending champion Wang Yihan in the final.  Her first ever meeting with Wang was actually in the semi-final here at the Korea Open, when she was beaten in three games.

“I’ve lost many times against Wang Yihan but I’ve beaten her once and this time I’m playing her in Korea so that could give me some extra energy.  I have to keep an eye on my condition and I hope I will be in top form for tomorrow’s final.

“I won that one Superseries in 2013 and then I haven’t been able to win one since.  In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a final in a Superseries so I really see this as a good opportunity and I really want to be ready for the final.”

Wang Yihan beat fellow two-time Korea Open winner Wang Shixian in straight games.  She comes into the final having won both tournaments she entered in Korea last year as she is both Asian Games and Korean Open champion.

Finals line-up
MD: Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong (KOR) [1] vs. Kim Ki Jung / Kim Sa Rang     (KOR)
WS: Wang Yihan (CHN) [4] vs. Sung Ji Hyun (KOR) [6]
MS: Chen Long (CHN) [1] vs. Ajay Jayaram (IND)
WD: Nitya Krishinda Maheswari / Greysia Polii (INA) [6] vs. Jang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (KOR)
XD: Zhang Nan / Zhao Yunlei (CHN) [1] vs. Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir (INA) [2]

Click here for complete semi-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