Koreans sneak in last wins hours before flying to Canada

Just hours before flying to Calgary for the Canada Open, 9 Koreans won matches in the opening weekend of the 2nd edition of the Korean League. Story and photos by […]

Just hours before flying to Calgary for the Canada Open, 9 Koreans won matches in the opening weekend of the 2nd edition of the Korean League.

Story and by Don Hearn

It has been a very busy few months, weeks, and days for players like Kim Ha Na (pictured above with Shin Seung Chan) and Chae Yoo Jung (pictured below).  Just over a month ago, they were part of Korea’s Sudirman Cup-winning team.  A few days later, they were back with their pro teams, squeezing in a major championship just before flying off again for the Indonesia, Australian, and Chinese Taipei Opens.

This past weekend, their schedule got even tighter.  6 days after both players were on the podium in Taipei, they were back on court in Korea, this time for the opening weekend of the 2017 Korean League.  By a rather fortuitous coincidence, the title sponsor of this year’s league is the Incheon International Airport and the matches were held in the city’s Namdong Gymnasium, just 17 kilometres from the causeway to the airport, where 19 members of the Korean national team, as well as independent player Lee Hyun Il, would be boarding a plane that would get them to Calgary in time for the Canada Open, which kicks off tomorrow.

Lee Hyun Il and Heo Kwang Hee are the only Canada-bound Korean men who were active in the Korean League.  The rest are members of university teams and Kim Won Ho is a high school player who is playing the Canada and U.S. Opens instead of the Asian Juniors.

Unlike the professional leagues in China, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, this one features only domestic athletes but it differs from the three annual domestic team competitions in several ways.  Each team tie consists of two doubles and one singles match and each match is best of three games to 15 points.  It is not a mixed team competition as only 4 of Korea’s 33 pro team organizations include both men’s and women’s squads.

Of course, not everyone involved in the league had a flight to catch and for many players who have retired from international competition, such as Lee Hyo Jung (pictured above, with Jung Kyung Eun) and Yoo Yeon Seong (pictured below), this will be the last competitive on-court appearance until Round 2 of the Korean League in September.  The tightest schedule belonged to Hwasun’s Jeon Joo I (pictured below).  Only Lee Hyun Il finished later on Sunday afternoon but while Lee will likely be resting until the men’s singles round of 64 begins later in the day on Tuesday in Calgary, Jeon will have to be up fairly early to play her first qualifying match against Canada’s Olivia Lei.

Two Gimcheon players took turns facing their old partners.  On Saturday, Jung Kyung Eun (pictured above with Lee Hyo Jung) faced a pairing of her former partner Kim Ha Na and current partner Shin Seung Chan.  On Sunday, Jung teamed up with Chang Ye Na (pictured below) against Chang’s former partner Kim So Yeong and current partner Lee So Hee.  The Gimcheon side lost out in both contests but they won the overall tie against Samsung on Saturday.

It was not only the players who were on the clock on Sunday.  Former world #1 Jung Jae Sung (pictured above, with Hwang Hye Youn) is currently the only national team coach who also holds down a job coaching for a pro team.  In fact, he even played for Samsung in the spring team competition in March.  Jung will be accompanying the Korean team in Canada, which will feature 5 of the 9 women on his Samsung team, as well as Heo Kwang Hee from the men’s team.

Samsung’s top women’s singles player, Kim Na Yeong (pictured below left), is still looking for a breakthrough.  Last year, she pushed Tai Tzu Ying, Carolina Marin, and Nitchaon Jindapon to three games but she went down tamely to Saena Kawakami in Chinese Taipei, which was only her second international tournament in 2017.

The Korean League was literally a sideshow at the Namdong Gymnasium.  One matted court at either end was devoted to the pro team ties but the arena floor was crammed with 28 other courts, filled with a stream of recreational players, totalling 5,000, who were playing doubles matches consisting of single, 25-point games.  Players would stop to watch the pros on their way to and from matches.  Some sat and watched from the 2nd-tier spectator seats, but Lee Yong Dae was by far the biggest draw in that regard.

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