MALAYSIA MASTERS Day 1 – Strong showing by Korea’s independents

Day 1 of the Malaysia Masters saw three of Korea’s four independent pairs prevail in a promising start to the new year. By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Kuala […]

Day 1 of the saw three of Korea’s four independent pairs prevail in a promising start to the new year.

By Don Hearn, Badzine correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur.  Photos: Mark Phelan / Badmintonphoto (live)

Four pairs from Korea competed independently of their national team and three of these advanced after convincing opening match victories.  For most of them, the end of the 2019 season was marred by injury woes so today’s healthy success was even more delightful.

The first on court were and Eom Hye Won (pictured).  The Canada Open and Akita Masters champions needed just two games to see off Yang Po Hsuan / Hu Ling Fang of Chinese Taipei.  This meant they were picking up where they left off, in a way, as the Taiwan pair was the last they beat in 2019 before injury struck Ko.

“I was out with a torn calf muscle and we were unable to play any tournaments so that was really unfortunate for my partners,” explained Ko Sung Hyun after the mixed doubles qualifier.  “I wouldn’t say it’s 100% healed but it is 90% there.”

“This is a new year,” added Eom Hye Won, “and we’ve just been trying to approach the first tournament with a fresh mind and outlook.”

On the repeat win against their opening opponents, Ko said, “The Taiwan players are very powerful so we came in expecting it to be tough but in the end, it wasn’t as much of a challenge as we had expected.”

Next up for the Korean veterans is England’s top couple Chris and Gabrielle Adcock.  The Koreans have never met the English pair in their current combination but Eom has lost to the Europeans with two different partners while Ko has won 8 times against Chris Adcock across two disciplines and with 5 different partners.

“Tomorrow, I will be definitely make an effort to one match for sure against the English pair,” said the soft-spoken Eom.

Ko added, “Of course, they are really good players so it’s going to be a tough match but we have to come prepared.  We have to be ready to play against [Chris], who is left-handed and with the European pairs, the female player is always looking to move quickly to the net we have to prepare for it.  Also, when a player like her has trouble with her short serve, it has to give us an edge so we just have to capitalize on it.”

While as recently as last summer, Ko Sung Hyun looked like he could be the front-runner for Korea in the Olympic qualification race in two events, he was decisively overtaken in both by Seo Seung Jae and his partners.  Now with the news of controversy in the Korean media and murmurings that Seo may be subject to worrying disciplinary consequences, thing may not seem so cut and dried.

Ko Sung Hyun confirmed that he had considered it hopeless to catch the national team players in the race to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics but while he acknowledged that he was aware of the situation, he said, “All we can do is focus on our own tournaments and on playing well to keep accumulating points.  Everything else is beyond our control.  Of course, theoretically, qualifying for the Olympics would be good for us personally but it doesn’t make sense for us to even talk about that, given the situation.”

In fact, Eom Hye Won had played one international match since her last outing with Ko.  That was at the Italian International Challenge with the man who last week became her husband – Kim Sa Rang.

Kim Sa Rang, incidentally, has been playing a lot of International Challenges lately and he and new partner Kim Duk Young (pictured) had a successful debut in a by winning their own first qualifying match, in men’s doubles.

In fact, the two Kims, too, were up against a pair they had already beaten in September.  They dropped their first game to Tan Boon Heong and Shia Chun Kang but got it together and dominated the next two games to advance to the main draw.

For Kim Sa Rang, it is quite the history with Tan.  Opponents for many years as part of their respective national teams, they teamed up about a year ago for a short-lived international partnership and now they are back to playing on opposite sides of the net.

Of these phases, Kim said, “Boon Heong has always been a tough opponent.  Of course, back when I was playing with [Kim] Gi Jung, he was one of the toughest players for us to play against. Even now, although he’s quite a bit older, his fundamental skill level is so good that we really have to come prepared when we face him.”

“We really didn’t want to lose but I was really nervous at the start,” confessed Kim Duk Young.  “After the first game, though, I was able to relax with Sa Rang beside me keeping control of things.  Once I worked it out, I was able to play much better.”

This is Kim Duk Young’s first appearance in a Super 500 tournament since he left the national team at the end of 2018.  He said, “Coming here, it felt great.  I mean I was nervous but the playing environment is so good that I really felt we could play well here.  We’re really keen to try hard and get a good result.”

Next up for the two Kims are another Malaysian pair, world #26 Goh Sze Fei / Nur Izzuddin

“Tomorrow the Malaysian pair we have to play, they’ve been doing well lately,” said Kim Sa Rang.  “On the other hand, we’ve been playing together for about six months now and we’ve been getting a lot of experience at International Challenges and have also been getting in shape physically.

“Today was more a chance to confirm what kind of form we’re in and tomorrow is really the beginning of our first big tournament.  I’m not going to predict that we’ll win but we have to get ready to take this chance to put the experience we’ve gained to work and try our best to win.”

Main draw action, of course, began for most of the men’s doubles field late in the day on Tuesday.  Ko and Shin Baek Cheol were completely outclassed by Japan’s newest national A team members Akira Koga and Taichi Saito.  Interestingly, it was the first win for the Japanese pair in 5 encounters between the two pairs, all since the Koreans returned from their very temporary post-Rio retirement.

In contrast, and Kim Gi Jung won in two games against Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han of Chinese Taipei.  Just like for Ko/Eom, Kim/Lee had the chance to repeat the last victory they enjoyed before injury sidelined them in the autumn.

Denmark and Malaysia also had independent pairs in action in Tuesday’s round of 32.  Mathias Boe and Mads Conrad-Petersen (pictured above) suffered their first loss to Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto (pictured right).  The 2017 Malaysia Masters winners shut the Danes down in straight games this time to book their spot in the second round.

Meanwhile, Malaysia had two independent pairs involved in the first round, one old and one brand new.  First up were Rio silver medallists Goh V Shem / Tan Wee Kiong.  They played two explosive, fast-paced games against compatriots Aaron Chia / Soh Wooi Yik but came up short in both.

The last Malaysian men on court on Tuesday were Ong Yew Sin / Teo Ee Yi.  They were cut from the national team just in the past few days by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM).  Already on Tuesday, the world #19 showed up at Axiata Arena with a new sponsor and they were able to defeat India’s Thailand Open champions Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty in three tough games.

Click here for complete Day 1 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 @