KOREA MASTERS 2015 Finals – 1st Grand Prix Gold for So Hee and Sato

Lee So Hee and Sayaka Sato both tasted gold for the first time in their careers, while Kim Ha Na and Ko Sung Hyun titled in their 3rd straight tournament […]

Lee So Hee and Sayaka Sato both tasted gold for the first time in their careers, while Kim Ha Na and Ko Sung Hyun titled in their 3rd straight tournament as the wrapped up in Jeonju.

Story and photos by Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Jeonju

Finals day at the 2015 Korea Masters Gold featured plenty of familiar and a little bit of new.  2014 runners-up became champions, defending champions repeated, and 2013 winners returned to the top.  But there were also two players recording their first Gold victories, one pair getting their first title together and one player getting a first career international title on home soil.

Jang Ye Na and Lee So Hee were supposed to be on opposite sides of the net last year but Jang’s injury made that an automatic title for Lee and her long-time partner Shin Seung Chan.  This year, Jang and Lee were in Jeonju playing their third final in only their 7th tournament together.

Their opponents were Shin and Jung Kyung Eun, who were also in their 7th tournament and they already had their first Superseries title despite not yet playing a final.  It was Korea Open Superseries finalists Jang and Lee who had the overwhelming start, though, winning the opening game 21-7.

Jung and Shin bounced back to take the second game but Jang/Lee held their nerve at the end of the decider to take it 21-19.  Jang and Lee will thus collect the 7,000 points toward their Rio qualification bid and will inch ahead of their compatriots in the Race to Rio standings.

“We were runners-up twice but now we’ve won our first tournament together so we are so happy,” said Jang Ye Na after the match.  “Losing in the final of the Korea Open was really heart-breaking so this feels really good to win at home.”

“For me, it was also my first ever Grand Prix Gold title so that makes me really happy,” added Lee So Hee.

“I was just attacking today, without any real strategy, just smashing at every opportunity, not trying to do anything with the angle or placement.  Ye Na was the one who was using the touch and controlling the game.

“When I was playing with Seung Chan, both of us could get impatient and start to fall apart and there was no one to sort of stabilize things and bring it back but with Ye Na, if I start to rush things, she will take control and get us settled down.”

“The fact that we have traded partners is less meaningful to me because Kyung Eun and I only played together for a short time, unlike So Hee and Seung Chan,” said Jang Ye Na.  “What I can say is that the partnership with So Hee is working out.”

Jang also referred to Lee as her ‘last partner’ but was quick to clarify: “I mean until the Olympics,” she said, alluding to the numerous partnership changes she has experienced since the Asian Games last year.

Lee So Hee was not the only player to take a career first Grand Prix Gold.  2014 runner-up Sayaka Sato was unable to maintain her commanding lead but still withstood a dangerous comeback from China’s towering Sun Yu in the first game to win 22-20.

In the second game, it was Singapore Open champion Sun’s turn to open up the big lead but this time, Sato was able to reel in her opponent and she finished it off 21-19.

“This is my first Grand Prix Gold title so I am so very happy,” said a beaming Sayaka Sato after collecting her medal and winner’s cheque.  “I had been in a Superseries final before I got injured in London.  I didn’t play for a whole year so it’s been a hard road back I’m so happy to return and win in Korea.”

Repeat finals, repeat titles

The day started off with the late-morning battle between Korea’s second and third-ranked men’s doubles pairs, in a repeat of the 2013 final.  While Ko Sung Hyun have made the most of the past two years by winning the World Championships and the Indonesia Open Superseries, Kim Ki Jung and Kim Sa Rang had been waiting until today to title again.

The two Kims were leading in the first two games but were unable to stay ahead.  They still managed to split the first two with Ko/Shin but it was the 2014 World Champions who were out of the blocks faster in the decider.  Kim/Kim were up to the challenge, though, and they were the solid pair in the final points, winning the third game 21-19.

“It feels really great to win a tournament again after so long,” said Kim Ki Jung after the match.  “Playing in Korea, were were concentrating on reaching the final but we are so glad to win.  But we still have a lot of tournaments to go before the Olympics so we have to get right back to preparing for the next event.

“We played the same team when we won here in 2013 and in the room where we’re staying for this tournament there is a TV and on TV they just happened to be showing that match we won two years ago.  So we were watching that and then we really started feeling we wanted to win again.”

“We are both looking to qualify for the Olympics so both pairs were really keen to win this tournament,” said Kim Sa Rang.  “I think in some cases both teams got a little too eager to finish off the rallies and started to make mistakes.”

“The race to qualify for Dubai is really close right now so we won’t know if we’re going until after the China and Hong Kong Opens,” added Kim Ki Jung.  “The difference between pairs that go and those that don’t can have a real impact on the Olympic qualifying points so we are certainly going to try our best to qualify for the Superseries Finals.”

Lee beats Lee again

From a repeat of the 2013 final, it went to a repeat of last year’s final.  Two-time defending champion Lee Dong Keun proved that his victory over the former world #1 Lee Hyun Il last year was no fluke.  He squandered a 13-6 lead in the first game and lost 17-21 but kept a level head and rebounded to take the second and third, both by 21-14.

“I’m so glad to win this tournament again, like last year,” said Lee Dong Keun after his match.  “It feels especially good because, after winning here last year, my results haven’t been that great.  Also, the points from winning this event contribute a lot toward my chances of qualifying for the Olympics.

“I normally play a more defensive style but when you are up against an opponent who doesn’t waver and start to make mistakes, playing a defensive game is hard work.  I have confidence in my fitness, too, so I thought I could come out attacking in the early stages and still keep it up through the end of the match.

“I was able to train together with Hyun Il last year when he was back with the national team to prepare for the Asian Games but these days he doesn’t train with the team because he is independently sponsored.  When I was just starting out with the national team, he was still with the team then so we did train together a lot and we do know each other’s game well.

“I wouldn’t say that I have any secret to beating Lee Hyun Il that others are lacking.  It’s just that I’ve had the chance to play him a lot and I’m used to this sort of match against him so that’s made it possible for me to beat him here.

Make that three!

After Lee Dong Keun had collected his third autumn Grand Prix title in Korea, his compatriots Ko Sung Hyun and Kim Ha Na had a triple of their own in the making.  They came to Jeonju after a week’s rest following their historic back-to-back Superseries titles.

After they split the first two games with opponents Shin Baek Cheol / Chae Yoo Jung, the world #6 built up a 15-9 lead in the deciding game.  There were some thrilling rallies as the underdogs began their comeback but once they’d evened things up at 17-all, the next exchange ended abruptly when Kim Ha Na mis-hit an interception into no-man’s land, leaving both Shin and Chae flat-footed.

“I’m just glad that we could keep our concentration until the end and come out the winners,” said Ko Sung Hyun afterward.  “Winning the tournament in Korea is great because lots of our fans came out to cheer for the matches.  Also, our parents came to the tournament to watch.  That really meant we felt the pressure to perform but we were also really motivated to win on home soil and we’re so happy that we did.

On the two consecutive wins over Shin and Chae, with this one following their similar victory in the Chinese Taipei Open final, Kim Ha Na said, “It is great that we can play a final between two Korean pairs.  We are happy that both times we were the pair that kept our concentration level high and made fewer errors and came away with the wins.”

Ko Sung Hyun commented on this pair’s new-found status as they now lead the Race to Rio mixed doubles standings. “We may have the opposing pairs gunning for us a lot more now but the top levels are always competitive.   Even if the other pairs see us as the pair to beat, we’re just focussing on shoring up our game so that they won’t be able to.”

Ko and Kim have now taken two tournaments in Europe and then one at home, Kim’s first ever international title in front of a home crowd.  They now head to China and Hong Kong for the final two legs of the Superseries regular season, another in which they are currently the top mixed doubles pair.

Final results
MD: Kim Ki Jung / Kim Sa Rang (KOR) [3] beat Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol (KOR) [2]  16-21, 21-18, 21-19
WD: Chang Ye Na / Lee So Hee (KOR) [5] beat Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [6]  21-7, 16-21, 21-19
MS: Lee Dong Keun (KOR) [4] beat Lee Hyun Il (KOR) [2]  17-21, 21-14, 21-14
WS: Sayaka Sato (JPN) [4] beat Sun Yu (CHN) [2]  22-20, 21-19
XD: Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na (KOR) [1] beat Shin Baek Cheol / Chae Yoo Jung (KOR) [5]  19-21, 21-17, 21-19

Click here for complete 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