Sat, 15 May 2004

Lee Yun-hwa works a miracle for Korean squad

Zakki P. Hakim, Jakarta

Most people would agree that the highlight of the 2004 Uber Cup was the semifinal match between Denmark and South Korea on Thursday night when the two sides needed five and a half hours to decide the winner.

It was the South Koreans who finally booked a place in the final against defending champion China, thanks largely to an outstanding performance by 18 year-old Lee Yun-hwa.

Just when Denmark looked like it was going to be victorious with a 2-0 lead after two matches were completed, Lee provided salvation by trouncing Camilla Sorensen 11-1, 11-7.

Lee was then back on court for the second time to team up with Lee Kyung-won in a thrilling fifth match in which the Koreans incredibly overturned a 2-9 deficit against Mette Schjoldager and Penille Harder to narrowly scrape home as the winner.

Korean team manager Kim Jung-soo said it was a miracle for the Koreans to beat Denmark 3-2 and advance to the final, especially given that the team members had originally believed they would only get as far as the semifinals.

He said they expected to go down to the Danes 2-3 until Lee Yun-hwa saved the day by contributing two points.

During the ongoing Uber Cup, Lee is playing both singles and doubles, with Kim saying that it has yet to be seen which event is more suitable for her.

"We have been testing her as we have yet to decide whether she will specialize in singles or doubles," Kim said, while hailing his protege as a future star.

A very shy girl, Lee said that she was very happy to win two points for Korea.

"Today was a wonderful experience for me and I will do my best to improve my performance even more in the future," she said after the match.

Lee got the chance of playing in the doubles after Ra Kyung- min, one of the more experienced players on the regular Korean team, was injured.

"It appears that the team wants me to play doubles as well."

Born in Kangwondo on Nov. 14, 1985, Lee said that she started playing badminton when she was 9.

The youngest of four sisters, Lee joined the national team when she was 15 and now trains at the Taeneung national training center, practicing six hours a day, seven days a week.

Her hard work in training paid dividends on Thursday. Her win over Sorensen inspired Lee Hyo-jung and Hwang Yu-mi to defeat Rikke Olsen and Ann-Lou Jorgensen 10-15, 15-6, 15-17 to even the score at 2-2.

With the Korean-Denmark encounter going to a decider, dozens of die hard badminton fans were on tenterhooks watching the do-or-die last doubles match between the two sides.

After sharing the first two games, the Danes looked set for a win when they took a formidable 9-2 lead in the third game.

Miraculously, the Korean pair clawed their way back before eventually taking a 12-9 lead in just one service turn, with Lee Yun-hwa contributing the most points with her lethal jump smashes and neatly placed strokes over the net.

After conceding one point, the Koreans went on to take the game, the match and a ticket against China in the final on Saturday.

Lee Yun-hwa, and the whole Korean team, may have had the odds staked against them in the final against defending champion China, but they could be forgiven for asking for another miracle to overturn the odds.