KOREA OPEN 2018 R16 – Top seeds continue to tumble

Upsets came from near and far at the Korea Open, as Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour took out the former World Champion and hometown heroes Lee and Kim shocked top seeds Kamura/Sonoda. […]

Upsets came from near and far at the , as Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour took out the former World Champion and hometown heroes Lee and Kim shocked top seeds Kamura/Sonoda.

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

Upsets in the women’s disciplines finally began in earnest on Thursday afternoon with world #26 Kirsty Gilmour of Scotland scoring her first ever win over 6th seed and former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon.  The Scot finished the match off in two fast-paced games and her exuberance did not stop after she’d sprinted and leapt to take all the points she needed, she skidded across the court on her knees in celebration.

“I think the hall came into play a bit,” said Gilmour after her win.  “It’s pretty windy in there.  It basically means that it’s anyone’s game and the person who can control it that tiny bit better will take it.

“I think the trick was to not think about it too much, not to measure things or be too tentative and play as free a game as possible and I think I did that with the right amount of control.”

Asked if the conditions increased her chances for an upset, Gilmour said, “Maybe a little bit but it’s not like they’ve got windy conditions and I’m playing in a perfect hall.  Some people just adapt that millisecond better and that’s all it takes.  It’s sport so there’s an element of luck but I think skill always outbalances luck in the end.”

Of her next match, Gilmour said, “I’ve played Zhang Beiwen a few times, most recently at the Indian PBL and that was up to 15 points and I just sneaked it I think so it’s going to be interesting tomorrow because she’s very skilful so I’m going to have to literally be on my toes.

“I’m taking it one match at a time and when I’ve done that, it’s gone really well.  It’s when I start getting ahead of myself, thinking ‘who will my quarter-final be?’ that’s bad news for me.  I don’t like to think like that at all.

“I’m had my ups and downs this year.  I had a good win in Malaysia and the Commonwealth Games, those were highs, and then I’ve had a couple of Asian tours and you become a member of the first round loser club, which is tough, but when you start to link things up like this, it just proves to yourself that it’s all worth it, the travelling’s worth it and the lows are matched with highs, it’s really nice.”

Taking aim at the top

Fully taking on the challenge of topping their performance in their first match, 8-time winner and new partner Kim Gi Jung sent men’s doubles top seeds Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda packing.  The World Championship runners-up caught the Korean veterans late in the opener and took a 3-point run to seal the one-game lead.

The Koreans refused to be put off by the first game reversal, however, and took control in the next two games to book their spot in the quarter-final.  The win marks Lee Yong Dae’s 9th straight victory over the Japanese aces, now with a third partner.

Asked if they thought they were already at the level where they were competitive with the pairs at the top, Lee Yong Dae said, “Of course, we too were once top ranked players so we know what it’s like and we have the experience in these kinds of matches.

“I played this Japanese pair a lot in the past when I was on the national team and I had actually beaten them quite a few times,” said Lee.  “But I wondered just how much they’d improved over the last two years and I was a little nervous.  Getting into the match, they made a lot of faults on defense that was quite surprising and we were able to run up the score against them in the second game.”

“This is my first Korea Open in two years and at the beginning of the first game today I was really nervous and made a lot of mistakes,” said Kim Gi Jung.  “I was rushing things.  Then I managed to settle down and play the rest of the match more comfortably.

“Yong Dae has a lot more experience than I have and he is so good at managing the game and controlling the flow.  The seems to make up for my weak points and it makes it easy for me to partner him.  I’m not really a backcourt player by nature but because he is so much better in the frontcourt, I tend to stick to the back and our game works pretty well that way.”

Asked whether their opponents might be assuming that after retirement, they would be a notch below their former level, Lee Yong Dae said, “Well, I’m 30 now and I guess it’s possible that our opponents might think that and I too find that there are stamina issues that are more considerable than before.  But still, we prepared for this tournament and this match with that background in mind and so we were able to stay with these younger players into a tough three-game match.”

Kim Gi Jung denied that stamina concerns were in any way related to his hastiness, saying: “It’s not like we haven’t been training all this time.  I don’t see playing three-game matches as any kind of problem for us.  I am rushed in the first game because if we win the first game, it makes it a lot easier to manage the match as a whole, with less pressure.”

The men’s doubles draw thus proceeds with only 3 seeds remaining.  Lee and Kim will next face Japan’s Hoki/Kobayashi, who took care of 6th seeds and World Championship semi-finalists Chen/Wang of Chinese Taipei.

In fact, powerhouses Denmark, Chinese Taipei, and China all lost the last of their men’s pairs on Thursday.  The last match of the day saw Asian Games bronze medallists Lee Jhe Huei and Lee Yang go down to Korea’s Seo Seung Jae and Choi Sol Gyu.

Lee Yang blew it on match point trying to feint a smash into a deceptive drop on a short lift and the Koreans seized the opportunity to snatch the second game.  The Taiwan pair just seemed to fall apart in the decider.

“We knew this pair was good, especially at the drives and we got caught by them so much in the first game,” said Choi Sol Gyu.  “We really started to concentrate more in the second and our defense improved.

“Then as with any player, when we were facing match point and they missed a shot like that, we went from there being only one more point in the match to having another chance and of course, our confidence started to grow and the third game went our way.”

The Korean pair has been teamed up again but in only their second outing this year in an individual event.  They first played together last year at the Sudirman Cup, where Lee/Lee with their very first opponents and the upset propelled the Korean team into the knockout round.  Now they find themselves against Japan’s #2 pair of Takuto Inoue / Yuki Kaneko on Friday.

Korean shuttlers were also involved in the departure of two 3rd seeds in total on Thursday.  The first, of course, came when Seo and Chae Yoo Jung sent the Adcocks packing from mixed doubles.  Late in the day, Heo Kwang Hee (pictured) got the better of 3rd-seeded team-mate Son Wan Ho, beating him 24-22 in the decider.  Heo had a brief Korea Open moment 3 years ago when he beat Lee Chong Wei in the qualifying rounds but he is still looking for his first big break, having accumulated only a couple of Grand Prix Gold semi-final finishes so far.

Click here for complete Thursday 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