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Bae Youn Joo performs at home, again

Korea’s Bae Youn Joo has been in the finals of some of the world’s most prestigious badminton tournaments and has won titles both at home and abroad but this weekend, she gets set to do something she hasn’t done in a long time: play in the semi-final of a major tournament in her home country.

Bae Youn Joo (QF - 02 rotator)In fact, it is difficult to compare the last time to this - as she has entered the semis of the 2012 Victor Korea Open, an OSIM BWF World Superseries Premier event – except that the last time was also auspicious.

Bae Youn Joo had just turned sixteen when she reached the final four of her very first international event, the 2006 BWF World Junior Championships, in Incheon.

In the 2007 edition she improved to runner-up but it was in 2010 that she shocked everyone by beating world #1 Wang Yihan en route to the final of the Proton Malaysia Open Superseries.

Since entering the top echelon, Bae has struggled with two Chinese opponents in particular. But on Wednesday, she scored her first ever victory over Wang Xin in 7 attempts and then today, she finally found a way past Li Xuerui, who had beaten her four times, including twice back in their junior days.

“Compared to a lot of players, Li tends to drive more than she attacks,” explained Bae Youn Joo after her match.

“I wasn’t just lucky to beat her. I’ve played her a lot and I know how she plays and I was ready for the match. My net shots were going over well and I was hitting confidently from the back of the court.

Bae Youn Joo (QF)“I felt I was getting confident with every point and that’s why I started to celebrate more as the match went on.

“Not only is this the Korea Open, at home, but it is also a big event and my draw has definitely not been easy. So making the semi-finals is really satisfying and I feel I can really go into the next match with a lot of confidence.

“It’s so great that there are so many people here to watch and cheer me on. For all the fans and even the players on the national team who don’t tour as much, I haven’t been able to show them how well I’m capable of playing, like in the tournaments overseas, so it’s really great I finally can.

“My family is watching on TV back in Masan, my hometown, too.”

For her family members, though, even seeing Youn Joo on television is a rare enough treat. Despite having reached three Superseries finals in the last two years and the semi-finals of six more major events, the twenty-one-year-old has never before managed to perform in an event that has been televised in her home country.

Bae Youn Joo (QF - 03)Bae Youn Joo just happened to be born in the southern city of Masan, where her high school, Sungji Girls’ High School, has had a top badminton team since her parents were children, and whose alumnae list reads like a Who’s who of Korean women’s badminton.

“There was a badminton team at my elementary school and I happened to go to a practice one day, tried it and was asked if I’d like to join.”

Badminton was not something that ran in the family for Bae, though, unlike many of the stories of so many of today’s players, such as that of her compatriot Sung Ji Hyun, daughter of one of Korea’s first national team badminton couples.

“My body was always rather frail when I was very young and I was sick a lot and really skinny – I’ve been doing sports for so long so I look a lot healthier now,” Bae laughs.

“My mother told me she didn’t want me to play but I was really stubborn.”

“Now, though, she is very supportive and always tells me to play hard.”

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