Baek Ha Na and Lee Yu Lim were the first at this year’s Malaysia Open to book spots in a first ever Super 1000 event, but they were not the last…

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

Korea’s Baek Ha Na and Lee Yu Lim won a nail-biting second game against last year’s runners-up Zhang Shuxian and Zheng Yu to reach the first Super 1000 final of their career.

Early in the match, the Koreans were staying close but were playing catch-up until they finally pulled ahead 16-14 and they pressed their advantage until they had the one-game lead.  They then had a dismal start to the second game, allowing the Chinese pair to race to a 10-2 lead.

Baek and Lee refused to give up, however, and drew within striking distance before the interval.  Slowly but surely, the Koreans crept up and again caught the #7 seeds at 14-all.  Zhang and Zheng were clearly shaken but they kept up the pressure, never letting the Koreans lead by more than one, saved one match point and earned a game point at 21-20.

But it was Baek Ha Na and Lee Yu Rim who scored a triplet of points and finally closed it out 23-21, erupting in a mix of joy and relief at having secured their spot in the final in two games.

“In the second game, the Chinese pair came out attacking so fast and at our pace, we just weren’t keeping up.  Our timing was just off,” said Baek Ha Na.  “We knew that playing like that, we were going to lose but our bodies just weren’t obeying.

“But we did manage to settle down and I think the Chinese players changed and started to rush things.  That allowed us to start scoring points and then we were back into it.  I was very surprised.”

“Even when we got to game point, we didn’t want to change anything,” added Lee Yu Rim.  “We just concentrated on sticking to the way we were playing and that worked.”

On whether they were prepared for the match going to a deciding game, Baek Ha Na said, “We always go into a match thinking we have to be prepared for it to go to three games but today was such a tough one I was thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t think I can do a third game’ so we really tried hard to finish it in the second game.  I think it was lucky that we were able to finish it in two.”

The win reversed their result against Zhang/Zheng when the two pairs met in the first round in Germany last winter: “When we played this pair in the German Open last year, our defense was really lacking,” said Baek Ha Na, “but here in Malaysia, our defense was working much better and we were able to make it a contest of endurance, which is what we see as our strength so I think that is what worked for us today.”

On their upcoming final against Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan, Baek said, “They are world #1 and the Olympic silver medallists so we can see this really as a chance to learn.  We have to be positive and play the way we can.  It just won’t do to be nervous so we just have to play comfortably and hope that it works out.

“Everybody knows this is a strong team to play against but if we get too nervous and don’t play our best, we’re going to regret it so we want to go into tomorrow’s finals playing hard without regrets.  Of course, the result is important, too, but we just want to play hard and do well.”

“We’re trying not to think about the fact that we’ve beaten them before,” said Lee of the prospect of a rematch against the Chinese, who are known particularly for their ability to trouble her more experienced Korean team-mates.  “I think that playing good defense and being able to withstand the attack is what allows us to compete because when our opponents attack, that uses energy and we always think we have the advantage in a match of endurance.

In the very next match, Japan’s Kodai Naraoka booked a spot in his own first ever Super 1000 final.  His was the latest instalment of a more familiar rivalry against a player of similar experience and ranking, Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand.  This similarity translated into an incredible battle of will and endurance, with Naraoka emerging the victor only after a whopping one hour and fifty-three minutes.

Click here for complete semi-final results


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