Gregoria Mariska recorded her first ever win over world #5 He Bingjiao as Indonesia posted wins in their first seven matches of the 2023 badminton season.

Story: Don Hearn, Badzine Correspondent live in Kuala Lumpur
Photos: Yves Lacroix and Erika Sawauchi for Badmintonphoto (live)

It was China’s start to the new year that dominated the opening matches at the 2023 Malaysia Open as three of the four courts began with matches featuring competitors from the badminton powerhouse.  It was a slow start for two of them, however, as He Bingjiao and Olympic champions Wang Yilyu / Huang Dongping both got onto the scoreboard first but each trailed at the first game interval.

But while Wang/Huang soon took control and eventually won in two close games, Gregoria Mariska pressed her advantage, getting out to a 15-9 lead by keeping He Bingjiao guessing.  He tried to narrow the gap but Gregoria closed it out with a six-point run.

After falling behind again in the second game, He moved up to 9-11 in the second with a couple of sharp crosscourt forehand returns that left the Indonesian flatfooted.  Another such finished a long, gruelling rally that saw He draw to within two points and she actually approached to 15-16 before Mariska again pulled away and won in straight games.

Indonesia’s success continued well into the afternoon, with wins in all five disciplines before their run came to an end as Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue of France won a close match against Rinov Rivaldy and Pitha Haningtyas Mentari.

The seventh win for Indonesia saw reigning Asian Champions Pramudya Kusumawardana and  Yeremia Erich Yoche Yacob Rambitan take out former World Champions Ko Sung Hyun and Shin Baek Cheol in straight games.  After a one-sided first game, the Koreans lead for much of the second but their younger opponents took back the lead in the middle of a five-point run and never looked back.  Regaining the form that won the veteran Koreans the 2021 French Open title will clearly take more time yet.

“This was our first big tournament since winning the French Open but we did play at the Korea Masters, so not this level,” said Ko Sung Hyun.

“I was suffering from a knee injury so I couldn’t even play for six months,” said Shin Baek Cheol, explaining the pair’s long absence from the World Tour.

“It’s been quite difficult to keep up with training since we are now on different teams in Korea,” said Ko.  “It’s easier for me to train for mixed doubles since Eom Hye Won and I are still on the same team and we can regularly train together.”

“I am playing for the Suwon City Hall team now so we only get to train together when we are on the road for a tournament,” Shin added.  “In fact, this is our first time even playing together since the Korea Masters.”

Long known for their power and athleticism, the two Koreans have obviously had to make some changes in the way they’ve played.  Still, late in the match, Ko Sung Hyun made a valiant attempt to run down a flick serve that had gone past him.  He half-dove to the back service line and made contact but his shot went wild.

Ko commented on how his game has changed in recent years: “Back when I was playing for the national team, I tended to rely mostly on power to get the edge in a game.  Inevitably, I find I don’t have the power I once did so I’ve had to find other ways, relying on more touch shots.  I think we’ve come to use a lot more variety in our shot-making.”

One of the last matches in Indonesia’s near-perfect day featured the even more experienced Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan.  They needed three games to see off China’s He Jiting and Zhou Haodong.

The Indonesian Tuesday saga finished with Christo and Toma Junior Popov coming up just short of victory in the second France-Indonesia showdown.  The French brothers took the first game but ended up losing in three to Fajar Alfian / Muhammad Rian Ardianto.

Click here for complete Tuesday results


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