Korea’s Lee captures Busan Open titleLee Hyung-taik, Korea’s top-ranked player, used devastating groundstrokes and his foot speed to cruise through an international field without losing a set in capturing the $50,000 Busan Open Challenger Series tennis tournament.
Lee, 30, consecutively defeated players from South Korea, Japan, the United States, Taiwan and Thailand to claim the $7,200 first-prize Sunday. He also earned 60 ATP points, (Association of Tennis Professionals), which will likely improve his current No. 104 world ranking.
In the final, more than 2,000 spectators at the outdoor Geumjeong Tennis Stadium hard-court complex in north Busan watched Lee beat top-seeded Danai Udomchoke of Thailand, 6-3, 6-2.
He broke Udomchoke’s serve once in the first set and three times in the second set, keeping his quick but slight, 5-foot-9, 154-pound (172 cenimeter, 70 kilogram) opponent consistently on his back heels.
“There was nothing I could do,” Udomchoke, 24, said afterward. “I couldn’t even get close to breaking his serve. Lee played just perfect today.”
Lee, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, will play next week at the Stella Artois Grass Court Championships at Queen’s Club in London, and another grass-court warmup the following week before competing at Wimbledon.
“I’m the oldest of any tournament player in Korea right now,” he said, speaking in Korean, after his 6-2, 7-6 semifinal win over Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan. “My power maybe is not as it once was, but now that I’m older, I’m more accurate. And psychologically, I’m not nervous when I play the top players.”
“I grew up playing on clay courts in Korea, but I like hard courts better,” Lee said. “I like the fast pace rather than having to hit lots of ground strokes like on clay. But, I still did well on clay. I reached the third round of the French Open, twice.”
Down 5-2 in the semifinals Saturday in the second set against Lu, also a huge hitter, Lee battled back to force a tiebreaker. “I had almost given up winning the set by then. I wasn’t being aggressive enough. I just decided to go for my shots and hit out.”
Lee, who grew up in Hoingsung, Gangwan province, is Korea’s top player. But despite winning the $380,000 Adidas International in Sydney, Australia, in 2003, he has been unable to consistently reach the quarterfinal stage or better on the professional tour.
He has admitted that to do so, he needs to improve his serve. Although powerful and consistent, it is not his big weapon.
He is also hindered by his reluctance ― unless an opponent hits a short ball and forces him to the net ― to volley. By not occasionally serving and volleying, Lee is forced to win through physically demanding attrition from the baseline, often needing 10, 15 or 20 ball rallies to take the point.
Since turning pro in 1995, Lee has notched a 110-108 win-loss record on the Tour and won $1.5 million in prize money.
Lee said he wished there were more Korean players on the Tour, as he travels alone with just his coach. Down the road, he may have company. Jun Woong-sun and Kim Sun-yong are two up-and-coming Korean male pros to watch. They were recently ranked fourth and first, respectively, in world junior tennis.
Lee has no plans to retire yet. But when he does he said he will stay in tennis.
He has his hand in a new tennis complex of four indoor and 10 outdoor courts in Icheon, Gyeonggi province. He will likely coach there after his playing days.
by Mark Dake