KOREA OPEN 2016 SF – World #1s keep Korean sweep hopes alive

Ko/Kim and Lee/Yoo advanced to the finals of the Korea Open where local shuttlers are favoured in all five disciplines. By Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Seongnam.  Photos: Yves […]

Ko/Kim and Lee/Yoo advanced to the finals of the where local shuttlers are favoured in all five disciplines.

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

Semi-finals day got underway on Friday with a repeat of the mixed semi-final last week in Japan.  New world #1s Ko Sung Hyun / Kim Ha Na were looking for another win over Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon / Goh Liu Ying to book a spot in their first Korea Open final.

In fact, Korean victories in mixed and men’s doubles had the potential to carry more meaning than simply results for the players themselves.  Not only are Ko/Kim vying to be the first Koreans in 7 years to win the Korea Open title, but both pairs merely making it thorugh to Sunday would mark the first time Korea has ever had finalists in all five disciplines at the Korea Open, meaning also that they would still be poised to become the only nation apart from China to the titles of a event.

Ko and Kim did not get off to the strongest of starts, however.  The Malaysians controlled the rallies in the first game and took it 21-15, then kept the second game close, making the Koreans fight through the pressure to even the match at one game apiece.

The crowd really got into the match at 9-all in the decider, when Kim Ha Na was forced to play no fewer than three defensive shots from a seated position.  She kept the Koreans in the rally and the Malaysians continued to pressure her after she made it back on her feet and the rally was over as soon as the Koreans got the attack back, the crowd roaring as the Malaysian return sailed wide.

After the end change, Kim Ha Na just took control of the frontcourt, alternating blocks, pushes, and kills and keeping the pressure on as the Koreans opened up a big lead.

“At the beginning, it was a really difficult match,” said Ko Sung Hyun afterward.  “I guess we were still struggling with nervousness.  Of course, I’m happy that we won but in particular, to recover from a bad situation and win the match, it makes me even more glad.”

“For me, too, losing the first game, then barely leading halfway though the second game, I was really afraid we were going to lose,” said Kim Ha Na.  “All I could do was keep defending and giving them chances to attack and it was hard.  When we finally won to force the third game, I finally felt I was able to see my opponents’ shots.  I think we were lucky to come away with the win in such a difficult match.

“Up until the last half game, it felt like we were always defending and that they were attacking me.  I knew I had to get past it and then toward the end, I don’t know how but I felt like things started to work for me.”

“We’ve played in so many big tournaments – the Superseries, now the Olympics – so we’ve played together quite a lot and all along, we have been meshing better as a pair,” said Ko Sung Hyun.  “This means that we have much fewer situations where we both go for the shuttle or where each tries to leave it for the other and this understanding shows in our better results.”

Asked what he and Kim were discussing, when they seemed to be talking to each other on court more than usual, Ko said, “I may be the older player but I still think that the female player is the one who takes the lead in mixed doubles so I tend to listen to Ha Na a lot.  In some cases, I might be able to see the whole court better from the backcourt so when I see something that will allow us to open up the court more, I try to share an idea.  Today, once we were able to use the whole court in the rallies, we were able to get the advantage.

With the other mixed doubles semi-final still yet to begin, in answer to the question of whom they would rather meet in the final, Kim Ha Na, without hesitation, answered: “Hong Kong!  We’ve played them several times before and we’ve beaten them more times than we’ve lost.”

“The momentum is really with this Chinese pair right now so it would be nice if we didn’t have to meet them in the final,” said Ko Sung Hyun.  “We have come back to Korea having been runners-up in Japan and I really want to win a mixed doubles title, too, in Korea so I will definitely be giving my best effort until the end.”

“Particularly since I didn’t play well today, I’m going to be sure to do my best to perform well tomorrow and hopefully win the final,” added Kim Ha Na.

As it turned out, of course, the Koreans would not get their wish when it came to their opponents for the final.  Zheng Siwei scored his third victory and Chen Qingchen her second over Hong Kong’s Lee Chun Hei and Chau Hoi Wah.

Korea came into semi-finals day assured of a final spot in women’s doubles and both singles disciplines.  Son Wan Ho had trouble with Lee Hyun Il (pictured) and conceded the second game but he and fellow Korean favourites Sung Ji Hyun and Jung Kyung Eun / Shin Seung Chan all made it through to the finals.

In the men’s doubles, Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured bottom) scored their most convincing win of the week so far, beating China’s Huang Kaixiang / Wang Yilu in straight games.  They had to wait until the last match of the day to know whether they would be facing Japan Open champions Li/Liu, whom the Koreans beat in the Asian Championship final this year, or whether it would be a grudge match against Malaysia’s Goh/Tan, who ousted the world #1s from the Rio Olympics.

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