KUALA LUMPUR: The year’s first badminton tournament – the Korean Open – is set for a red-hot finale in chilly Seoul.
World No. 1 and top seed Lee Chong Wei and second seed Chen Long of China were in sizzling form en route to overcoming their semi-final opponents on Saturday.
Chong Wei stood solid in the face of Kenichi Tago’s constant battering to prevail 21-17, 21-17 in 51 minutes while the lanky Chen Long packed off Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana 21-15, 21-9 in 41 minutes.
The opener saw Chong Wei losing his focus momentarily before making a comeback to nick it. The second game was nail-biting with both trading blow for blow before the 31-year-old Malaysian claimed his 15th win over the Japanese in 16 meetings.
But Chong Wei had better be wary of the lanky Chen Long, who is shaping up well for their first duel this year.
Their rivalry has reached a new level since they first met in the India Open in 2009. The duo have met 14 times and the score stands at 7-7.
But recent record favours the China shuttler. Last year, Chong Wei met Chen Long twice – in the finals of the All-England and Denmark Open – and lost on both occasions.
Even national singles coach Rashid Sidek is not willing to predict the winner this time.
“Based on their current form, it will be a 50-50 match. Chen Long’s strong point is in the long rallies and he will ride on this to overpower Chong Wei, who will be banking on his speed and power,” said Rashid.
Chen Long, however, will have extra motivation to do well in Seoul. He will be hoping to bag his first Korean Open singles crown and give himself an early present as he will be celebrating his 25th birthday on Jan 19.
The women’s singles final is also set to be a thrilling affair, with reigning world champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand eyeing a breakthrough against China’s Wang Yihan on Sunday.
Ratchanok has beaten all of China’s top players expect for Wang Yihan.
The Thai has lost to Yihan in all seven outings, thus far.
The 19-year-old Ratchanok, however, came closest to ending that run in the semi-finals of the Denmark Open last October before losing 23-21, 19-21, 17-21.