KOREA MASTERS SF – Eom looks to title in her limited run

3-time winner Eom Hye Won is back in the final at the Gwangju Korea Masters, but she and Ko Sung Hyun are up against a hot pair looking for a […]

3-time winner Eom Hye Won is back in the final at the Gwangju , but she and Ko Sung Hyun are up against a hot pair looking for a mixed triple.

Story and photos: Don Hearn (live from Gwangju)

When Korea’s late autumn tournament first got upgraded from an International Challenge to a , Eom Hye Won was a 19-year-old and played in two finals.  She went on to win the women’s doubles title in the following year’s Gold edition, followed by a doubles double in 2012.

Of course, Eom followed that up with plenty of other international titles, as well as silver and bronze medals at the 2013 World Championships, but it has been a full two years since she has appeared on the international stage.  But the crafty and diminutive 27-year-old, who will be debuting with the Hyderabad Hunters of India’s Premier Badminton League later this month, must make the most of this one-time appearance in the World Tour.

Eom Hye Won and partner Ko Sung Hyun (pictured) just happened to win the first tournament they ever played together, way back in 2011 at the Chinese Taipei Open.  This time, they are looking to repeat that, after seeing off former world #6 Chau Hoi Wah and new partner Mak Hee Chun.

Ko Sung Hyun, who has thus booked a spot in a final in his fifth straight international tournament since returning to the scene with Shin Baek Cheol in August, was delighted with the result: “To be honest, I was expecting that we could probably make some quarter-finals or semis but then we won the first tournament and our results since then have been good and I’m really happy about that.  Now I’m starting to hear that it’s time to play even harder.

“We played together starting in 2011 and played together for about a year.  Our styles match pretty well as Hye Won has always been good at creating the opportunities for me to attack.  We play for the same domestic team, too, so we all train together day in and day and we know each other’s game well.”

Eom Hye Won has not been in an international final since December 2015 and this is her first international tournament since the Korea Masters in Jeju the following winter.  Incidentally, her last final was with her Sunday opponent in Gwangju, Choi Sol Gyu, while in 2016, she was stopped in the quarter-finals by her partner of today.

“I had no idea that I would be able to make the final but I just knew that playing with Sung Hyun, I could play comfortably and enjoy the matches,” said Eom after the match.  “I didn’t feel pressure, I just followed his lead and it has worked out well.”

But the rule change (see here) that has allowed the likes of Kim Sa Rang (pictured, with Tan Boon Heong), Shin Baek Cheol, Kim Gi Jung, and Lee Yong Dae to compete internationally again still leaves players like Eom to fall through the cracks.

Ko Sung Hyun explained, “We’d like to pair up and play more tournaments like this but the Association rules still don’t permit it.  The age limit has been lifted but there is still a requirement related to past results and the Assocation will only enter players who are Olympic medallists, World Champions, or Asian Games gold medallists.  So it’s frustrating because we’d like to compete as a pair overseas but we can’t.”

The soft-spoken Eom agreed that she was really looking forward to the opportunity to shine as the Korea Masters is a rare opportunity where the BKA has always accepted entries from various local players who are not yet, or no longer, on the team.

Beware the mixed doubles triple

Although Ko and Eom disposed of two seeded pairs themselves, much of the heavy lifting was done by national team members Choi Sol Gyu and Shin Seung Chan (pictured).  On consecutive days, they ousted former All England winners, albeit with their less experienced partners.

In the semi-finals, they took on Praveen Jordan and Melati Daeva Oktavianti.  After narrowly missing out on the first game, the Indonesians took a huge lead in the second, only to have to fight tooth and nail to hold off the late surge by the Koreans.  In the decider, it was the home favourites who led 18-13 before letting their opponents right back into it and needing a 3-point run to take the win home.

Both Choi and Shin will feature in two finals, meaning that if they can both win a doubles double, they will have a mixed doubles triple.  This is rare outcome, which has happened once at the Korea Masters but has not happened at any Grand Prix Gold / event since the 2015 German Open.

Shin and Lee So Hee devastated compatriots Baek Ha Na and Kim Hye Rin 21-4 in their opening game, only to see their young opponents scrape out an impressive win in the second.  They were just as dominant in the decider, however, and it is the defending champions who will contest the all-Korean final on Sunday.

Their opponents will be Chang Ye Na, who herself was half of the mixed triple here back in 2011, and Jung Kyung Eun (pictured).  Jung was last in a final in 2016, when she and Shin Seung Chan won this title.

Choi Sol Gyu, meanwhile, won in three games against former top ten pair Lu Ching Yao / Yang Po Han of Chinese Taipei.  It is his first major final with Seo Seung Jae (pictured), who won this event last year with Kim Won Ho.  The new duo, who first paired up at the 2017 Sudirman Cup, reached the semis at the Korea Open and recently went to Europe to win a couple of International Series.

After the match, Choi said the European tour was more about experience than confidence: “Well, the level at the International Series events is quite low so we went into those events expecting to win so I don’t think it really gave us confidence.  But we had played together before and we are still finding our chances to compete together and improve the partnership.

“This week, from the first round, their haven’t been any easy matches.  The first one was tough, and the next one and the next one and so now that we have won this difficult one today, we feel that we might have gotten over that hump.

“I have been staying healthy and I’m coming in having trained sufficiently so there isn’t a problem with stamina and we’re just focussed on playing a good match tomorrow.”

Seo Seung Jae did not have a preference for opponents in the final, as he and Choi were awaiting the result of the last match on semi-finals day: “Both pairs are excellent players so whoever makes it into the finals, we’ll be ready to play our best and produce a good result.”

As it turned out, it was Wang Chi Lin and Po Li Wei (pictured) who prevailed in the other semi-final.  They pulled away from Kim Sa Rang and Tan Boon Heong to score the last three points in their deciding game.  Wang, who is slated to compete as second seed at the in just over a week, is obviously keen to get one more title in before heading to Guangzhou.

In both women’s singles semi-finals, China prevailed in straight games.  Malaysia’s Goh Jin Wei made a bold comeback against Li Xuerui but wasted two challenges on the way, questioning calls on Li’s back baseline.  She then thought she had won the game when she smashed at 21-20, but her shot was called up and she had no challenges remaining.

Li went on to finish the opener and though Goh bounced back to force a decider, Li Xuerui (pictured) dominated that game.  Li thus booked a spot in a final in Korea for the 3rd time, as she was runner-up at the Gimcheon Grand Prix in 2010 and at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.  Both times, she was beaten by a compatriot and on Sunday, she will again face a Chinese opponent.

Han Yue booked a spot in her third straight Super 300 final with a three-game win over Korea’s Kim Hyo Min.  The 19-year-old allowed Kim to take the opener but she dominated the next two games.  The two Chinese shuttlers will thus meet for the second straight week as Han beat Li in the semis at the Syed Modi Super 300 last Saturday.

In men’s singles, 2016 winner Son Wan Ho will take on Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia.  Son Wan Ho enjoyed a rather straightforward victory over Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yiu but his opponent barely had to break a sweat before Sitthikom Thammasin had to retire with an injury.

Finals line-up
MD:  Po Li-Wei / Wang Chi-Lin (TPE) [8] vs. Choi Sol Gyu / Seo Seung Jae (KOR)
WD:  Lee So Hee / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) [2] vs. Chang Ye Na / Jung Kyung Eun (KOR) [3]
MS:  Son Wan Ho (KOR) [1] vs. Lee Zii Jia (MAS)
WS:  Han Yue (CHN) [8] vs. Li Xuerui (CHN)
XD:  Choi Sol Gyu / Shin Seung Chan (KOR) vs. Ko Sung Hyun / Eom Hye Won (KOR)

Click here for complete semi-final results

Related Images:

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