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S. Korea to host world's richest badminton tournament this week
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will host the world's richest badminton competition of the season this week, with the sport's brightest stars vying for big prize money.

   The 22nd Korea Open tournament will kick off Tuesday with the preliminary rounds in men's and women's singles and doubles, plus mixed doubles. The competition will get underway in earnest on Wednesday with the rounds of 32.

   The finals for all disciplines are scheduled for Sunday.

   The total purse for the tournament is US$1 million, the largest for a badminton event this year. The Korea Open is one of five Premier Super Series events run by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), the global governing body of the sport. It runs a 12-leg Super Series plus the Super Series Masters Final.

   The Korea Open, the Indonesia Open, the Denmark Open, All England Open and the China Open have Premier status. Players ranked among the top 10 in the world must participate in Premier Super Series tournaments.

   At the past two Korea Opens, China swept up four of the five titles up for grabs. In 2012, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia took the men's singles title, but women's singles, men's and women's doubles, and mixed doubles were all claimed by Chinese players.

   It could be much the same story this year, with the Chinese dominating the world rankings.

   South Koreans Lee Yong-dae and Ko Sung-hyun in men's doubles represent the best gold medal hope for the host country, which was shut out of titles last year.

South Korean men's badminton doubles team of Lee Yong-dae (L) and Ko Sung-hyun. (AP=Yonhap file photo)

After the London Olympics, Lee parted ways with his long-time partner, Chung Jae-sung, who retired from international play after the two combined for a bronze medal in London. Lee and Ko teamed up in September, but they were knocked out of the first round at the Denmark Open the following month, their first event as a team. They have since emerged as one of the hottest pairs in men's doubles.

   They finished runner-up at the China Open in November last year, coming up short against the world's No. 1 tandem of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark. Then in December, Lee and Ko won three consecutive international events in two different countries.

   To win the Korea Open, Lee and Ko will likely have to get past Boe-Mogensen. Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng of China will be another strong pair. They are the defending Korea Open champs and the reigning Olympic gold medalists. Lee and Ko beat the Chinese pair in the quarterfinals of the China Open last year.

   In men's singles, Lee Chong Wei will take his No. 1 ranking to Seoul and eye his second straight Korea Open title. His biggest rival will be Lin Dan of China, who defeated Lee for the Olympic gold in London.

   Li Xuerui of China should be the favorite in women's singles. The No. 1-ranked player also won her first Olympic gold medal in London. Wang Yihan, the runner-up in London, and Wang Shixian, the 2012 Korea Open champ, will try to turn women's singles into an all-China affair.

   Xu Chen and Ma Jin, the defending Korea Open champs in mixed doubles, are also the No. 1-ranked pair. It could be an all-China final, with Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, the reigning Olympic gold medalists, also being a serious threat.

   In women's doubles, China's Ting Qing and Zhao Yunlei are the defending champs and the world's No. 1 pair. At this year's Korea Open, Ting will team up with Bao Yixin, while Zhao will partner with Cheng Shu.

   Also in women's doubles, two controversial teams will be in action.

   Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na of South Korea, ranked 10th, and No. 3 Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China were among four women's doubles pairs to be disqualified from the London Olympics in a "play-to-lose" scandal. A second South Korean team -- Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung -- and an Indonesian duo were the other disqualified teams. They were booted from the Olympics for attempting to drop round-robin matches intentionally to ensure favorable draws in the knockout stage.

   In the immediate aftermath, Yu had declared she would retire from badminton, but she and Wang, cleared by Chinese sporting authorities, returned to competition at the China Open last December.

   Jung and Kim are serving one-year suspensions from the national team, but as one of the world's top-10 pairs, they are still eligible to compete as representatives of their semi-pro clubs.

   According to Badminton Korea Association, non-national team players can compete at an international event held in South Korea as long as they meet world ranking requirements.

   Jung and Kim are on a collision course to meet Wang and Yu in the quarterfinals this week.