THAILAND OPEN 2019 Day 1 – Veteran Kims rule over junior champs in qualifying

Reigning World Junior Champions Di/Wang and fell to veterans Kim Gi Jung / Kim Sa Rang not long after Sony Dwi Kuncoro schooled Kunlavut Vitidsarn as the 2019 Thailand Open […]

Reigning World Junior Champions Di/Wang and fell to veterans Kim Gi Jung / Kim Sa Rang not long after Sony Dwi Kuncoro schooled Kunlavut Vitidsarn as the 2019 got underway in Bangkok.

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

The 2019 Thailand Open marks both the return and possibly also the swan song for former world #2 Kim Gi Jung / Kim Sa Rang (pictured top).  The Korean veterans – who retired from international badminton following their narrow quarter-final loss to the eventual gold medallists at the Rio Olympics – are the last of Korean big 3 to return to the scene this year, after Ko Sung Hyun / Shin Baek Cheol last summer, and Lee Yong Dae / Yoo Yeon Seong last month.

Kim and Kim ruled over two-time World Junior Champions Di Zijian and Wang Chang (pictured below) in fits and starts in their first game, trading runs of points until they had the 21-13 win.  Sa Rang was prowling the net and also varying the attack from the back court, while Gi Jung played solid defense and took every opportunity to pummel the shuttle from the back as well.

The Koreans looked like they had run away with the second game as well when they earned match points at 20-16 but the Chinese teens showed great spirit and sent the game to extra points.  They were unable to convert either of their game point opportunities and the veteran pair finally closed it out 24-22.

The Koreans were pumped after their win but revealed that for them, this was not the beginning of a run to the Tokyo Olympics: “Actually, we haven’t been able to train together at all,” said Kim Sa Rang after the win.  “The fact that we have two different sponsors has created a problem so although this is our first tournament together this year, it is likely also to be our last.

“What that means is that with this being likely our only tournament, we are really determined to enjoy ourselves while it lasts.”

The Koreans appeared on court to be the speedy, defensively sound pair they always were but asked whether they themselves felt that way, Kim Gi Jung said, “At any rate, we are playing here to enjoy ourselves without any pressure so it’s easy for us to relax and play comfortably.  If we put pressure on ourselves to perform, then of course we would get nervous and wouldn’t be able to play as freely but having decided to just enjoy the match allows us to play as we did.”

On whether they were able to do adequate video analysis in advance of the match, Kim Sa Rang replied, “It’s true that with junior opponents, it will always be hard to prepare but it’s not that different for us, since it’s been so long since we played together so players aren’t going to know our game well either.  We did some searching and took a quick look at some footage of them in the final of the Asian Junior Championships.  They are also tall and fit but in our first tournament together in so long, we couldn’t just come and lose in qualifying so we prepared as well as we could.

“This may be our first tournament in a while but we still have a lot of experience playing together,” he said of their upcoming match against Lu/Yang, “and if we just play with our style, our opponents won’t have any experience against us either so we don’t know how it will turn out but we’ll just do our best.”

Kim Gi Jung was playing until recently with Lee Yong Dae while Kim Sa Rang played several tournaments with Tan Boon Heong of Malaysia but the 29-year-old denied that reuniting with his former partner had made it any easier to train together: “Well, even if we’re in the same country, we are supported by different pro teams and in completely different regions so finding the time and place to get together and train is not easy.  If we felt we had a chance to continue playing together longer term, we’d find a way to make it work but since this is more of a one-off thing so we’ve just had to train and play with our own teams and come together here and play the best we can.”

“Well of course we’ll keep playing to win,” said Kim Gi Jung of their target for the Thailand Open, “but even if we set a target of winning the tournament, we have to accept what happens so we’ll just focus on one match at a time.”

Before Di and Wang fell, fellow World Junior Champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn (pictured above right) went down in one of the earliest matches to 2012 Thailand Open winner Sony Dwi Kuncoro.  Both Vitidsarn and the Chinese teens had come straight from playing the Asian Junior finals on Sunday in Wuhan but while the two-time winners Di/Wang had to settle for runner-up this year, the Thai went from being runner-up last year to winning his first Asian Junior title.  He was totally outclassed by Sony Dwi Kuncoro (pictured above left), however, managing only 11 points in the second game.

Thailand’s qualifiers took a while to get going, in fact, dropping all four matches in men’s singles.  Fortunes started to turn when the women took to the court, though. Supanida Katethong (pictured right) saw off Korea’s Kim Hyo Min in straight games and both Thai women’s doubles pairs qualified for the main draw as well.

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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 @