The badminton caravan rolled into Seoul from Tokyo, and the first day’s crowd at the Victor Korea Open had barely settled in before last year’s runner-up Lee Chong Wei exited the event.
Young Korean Heo Kwang Hee (featured image), the 2013 World Junior champion, stood up to the task well even as Lee looked sluggish in his Men’s Singles first round qualifying match. The former World No.1 was unable to break free as his usually sharp shots missed their mark. Lee had the second game in his grasp with a 19-16 lead but a succession of errors helped Heo snatch five points in a row for the unlikely 21-19 21-19 win. It was Lee’s earliest exit at a World Superseries event and will count as the upset of the year.
Lee was too distraught to speak, but his coach Morten Frost gave credit to the Korean.
“Heo played well today, his attack was quite good. There was no problem with fitness. There will be phases in every player’s career when he might go down a bit, but he should be able to climb back,” the Dane said.
Sharing Lee’s troubles was former No.3 Kenichi Tago (Japan), who, for the second successive time, fell in the first round of qualifying. His conqueror was Indonesia’s Ihsan Maulana Mustofa (above), who went on to beat Heo Kwang Hee 21-17 21-19 to make the main draw against Germany’s Marc Zwiebler. The other qualifiers were Korea’s Jeon Hyeok Jin, Malaysia’s Zulfadli Zulkiffli and Japan’s Riichi Takeshita.
The top half of the Men’s Singles draw is a minefield, with defending champion Chen Long (China), his resurgent compatriot Lin Dan, two-time Superseries champion Kento Momota (Japan) and Hong Kong Open champion Son Wan Ho (Korea) all in the same half. In contrast, the second-seeded Viktor Axelsen has a smoother path; the Dane’s first difficult challenge is expected to be in the semi-finals. Axelsen will remember though that his Australian Open runner-up performance was followed by a first-round defeat at the Indonesia Open.
Korea dominated the Women’s Singles qualifying rounds, with three Koreans – Kim Na Young, Lee Jang Mi and Kim Ye Ji – making the main draw. Japan’s Aya Ohori (below) prevented a fourth Korean from joining them by beating Koh Eunbyeol 21-13 15-21 21-14.
Somewhat in contrast to Men’s Singles, it’s the bottom half in Women’s Singles that is crowded with potential champions. All the four Chinese – Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan, Wang Shixian and Sun Yu – are in the lower half, alongside last week’s Yonex Open Japan champion Nozomi Okuhara and other tough Japanese competitors like Yui Hashimoto, and Minatsu Mitani.
Top seed Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) has a good shot at making the semi-finals where she might run into Akane Yamaguchi (Japan) or PV Sindhu (India). Tai will however first have to clear the challenge of USA’s Beiwen Zhang, who has a 2-1 record over her. Korea Open 2013 champion Sung Ji Hyun and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon are in Tai’s half and would want to shake off their inconsistent performances in recent weeks with a strong showing here.
In Men’s Doubles, home heroes Lee Yong Dae/Yoo Yeon Seong, fresh from their triumph in Japan, face Indonesia’s Gideon Marcus Fernaldi/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in their opener. With defending champions Mathias Bo/Carsten Mogensen (Denmark; above) and Indonesia Open champions Shin Baek Choel/Ko Sung Hyun (Korea) in their half, last week’s champions have their task cut out.
Women’s Doubles defending champions Bao Yixin and Tang Jinhua (China) are in the same half, but with different partners. Bao reunites with former partner Zhong Qianxin, who won the Yonex Open Japan last week with Zhao Yunlei, while Tang will continue with World champion Tian Qing. Ma Jin/Tang Yuanting and Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen/Kamilla Rytter Juhl are also in the same half. Local hopes will rest with Jung Kyung Eun/Shin Seung Chan, Eom Hye Won/Kim Ha Na, Chae Yoo Jung/Kim So Yeong, Chang Ye Na/Lee So Hee, and the in-form duo Go Ah Ra/Yoo Hae Won, who will be the pair to watch in the bottom half.
Mixed Doubles defending champions Zhang Nan/Zhao Yunlei are top seeded and are favourites to retain the title, especially since Yonex Open Japan champions Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pedersen aren’t in the draw. No.2 seeds Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir (Indonesia) are seeded to meet familiar foes Xu Chen/Ma Jin in the semi-finals. While the attention will be on these pairs, others, such as Korea’s Kim Gi Jung/Shin Seung Chan or Hong Kong’s Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah, might well be able to spring a surprise or two.
Mixed Doubles opening round matches today saw China’s Liu Cheng/Bao Yixin survive a close duel against Korea’s Kim Gi Jung/Shin Seung Chan, 21-19 22-20. Australian Open champions Lee Chun Hei/Chau Hoi Wah (Hong Kong) were beaten by local hopefuls Ko Sung Hyun/Kim Ha Na 21-18 21-12. England’s Chris Adcock and Gabrielle Adcock (above) also made it to the second round beating Liao Min Chun/Chen Hsiao Huan (Chinese Taipei) in straight games.
Men’s Singles: Jeon Hyeok Jin (Korea), Zulfadli Zulkiffli (Malaysia), Riichi Takeshita (Japan), Ihsan Maulana Mustofa (Indonesia)
Women’s Singles: Kim Na Young, Lee Jang Mi, Kim Ye Ji (all Korea), Aya Ohori (Japan)
Men’s Doubles: Liu Cheng/Lu Kai (China); Chan Jun Bong/Kim Dae Eun; Choi Solgyu/Kim Jae Hwan; Chung Eui Seok/Kim Dukyoung (all Korea)
Mixed Doubles: Kenta Kazuno/Ayane Kurihara (Japan); Yoo Yeon Seong/Chang Ye Na; Chung Eui Seok/Hee Yong Kong; Kim Jae Hwan/Kim So Yeong (all Korea)