South Korea’s top men’s doubles badminton duo said on Friday they’re ready to defend their Korea Open championship when the world’s most lucrative badminton event starts next week.
The tandem of Jung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae said they’re looking forward to competing against the world’s best players before home fans, adding they’re going to bear down especially hard.
“There are a lot of top players in the field and so we can’t afford to let up even from the first round,” Lee, a Beijing Olympic gold medalist in mixed doubles, said at a press conference. “We have to stay focused right from the start.”
Jung said he’s especially driven to perform well before South Korean fans.
“We’ve worked harder than before for this event,” he said. “As long as we have faith in each other throughout the tournament, we should have a chance to defend our title.”
The Jan. 25-30 Korea Open is one of five Premier Super Series events hosted by the Badminton World Federation, the global governing body of the sport. It runs a 12-leg Super Series, and the Korea Open, Indonesia Open, Denmark Open, All-England and China Open have the ‘Premier’ status.
The Korea Open is also the most lucrative badminton tournament ever, with $1.2 million in total purse. Men’s and women’s singles champions get $90,000 each, while men’s, women’s and mixed doubles winners earn $94,800 each.
The BWF has made it mandatory for top-10 singles players and doubles teams in the world rankings to compete in all five Premier Super Series tournaments and a minimum of four Super Series tournaments. This was designed to help popularize badminton across the world by having the best players on hand.
Since it’s the first Premier Super Series of the year, Lee said he wants to get off to a good start for the new season.
“This tournament is no different than a world championship because of the level of competition,” Lee said. “I want to start the year on a positive note so I can enjoy the rest of 2011.”
Sung Han-kuk, the South Korean head coach, said such a big event is “a good opportunity to test ourselves” against top competition.
“We’ve been solid in men’s doubles and mixed doubles, but not as much in singles,” Sung said, noting the Korea Open is his first major tournament as the head coach. “So we will try to stay at the top in doubles and push ourselves more in singles events.”
The South Korean contingent will also include Park Sung-hwan and Bae Youn-joo in men’s and women’s singles, respectively.
Among other stars, the world No. 1 pair of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen from Denmark will likely be the biggest foes for Jung and Lee. The Danes won the 2009 Korea Open.
China’s Lin Dan will try to win his third Korea Open men’s singles title. He won gold medals in men’s singles and the team event at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games last November and was voted the most valuable player of the Asiad.
Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, runner-up to Lin in the men’s final in Guangzhou, is the defending Korea Open champ.
In the women’s singles, Wang Shixian of China will seek her second straight Korea Open crown, with her compatriot Wang Xin providing the challenge. They swept up gold and silver medals in Guangzhou.
A top-10 player who does not participate in the Premier Super Series will be fined $4,000, but the BWF has said it will waive the fine if injured players turn up for tournaments to fulfill their obligation to meet fans or if they provide strong evidence that they are physically unable to travel.