Kwon Soon-woo overcomes unsportsmanlike conduct controversy to reach men’s doubles quarterfinals…raises gold hopes
South Korean men’s tennis sensation Kwon Soon-woo, ranked 112th in the world, has redeemed himself in the men’s doubles after refusing to shake hands and breaking his racket. The South Korean tennis star put in a stellar performance in his doubles match against Japan to continue his quest for his first Asian Games medal.
Kwon Soon-woo teamed up with Hong Hong-chan to defeat Japan’s Shinji Hazawa and Kaito Uesugi 2-0 (6-2 6-4) after one hour and nine minutes in the men’s doubles quarterfinals at the Hangzhou Asian Games 2022 at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Tennis Centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China on Sunday afternoon.
South Korea was expected to overwhelm the Japanese in objective power on the day. Kwon Soon-woo is ranked 112th and Hong Sung-chan is 195th in the world, which is high among Asian men, but Hazawa is ranked 549th and Uesugi is ranked 1082nd.
Kwon Soon-woo and Hong Sung-chan got off to a shaky start, trailing 1-2 to the Japanese after the first set, but quickly leveled the score. After bouncing back to 4-2, they never relinquished the lead and pushed Japan hard to take the first set 6-2.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Kwon Soon-woo and Hong Sung-chan struggled a bit against the strong counterattack of HAZAWA Shinji and UESUGI Kaito, conceding the first two points.
However, Kwon Soon-woo and Hong Sung-chan continued to play calmly. With the score tied at 3-3, they managed to take each point in the tiebreaker to secure a 2-0 victory over Japan and a spot in the semifinals.
Kwon Soon-woo has struggled to find his stride in various tournaments since returning from injury this season, but the men’s doubles victory was a big step in his rebound. It was also a quick way to bounce back from a shocking singles exit.
Hong Seong-chan, the No. 8 seed in the men’s singles event, continued his upward trajectory after defeating Vietnam’s Lee Nam Hoang in the quarterfinals on the 26th. There were some concerns that Japan would fall victim to another upset, as the level of tennis in the country is not low regardless of world ranking, but with the win, Kwon Soon-woo and Hong Sung-chan will be able to continue their strong challenge for gold.
Kwon Soon-woo’s head was down after her first Asian Games, Jakarta-Palembang 2018, where she fell far short of expectations. His gold medal hopes were dashed when he fell to India’s Gunneswaran in the men’s singles quarterfinals. The men’s doubles also suffered a setback. They lost in the round of 16 to China’s Gong Maoxin and Zhang Zhi, leaving the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games empty-handed.
Kwon Soon-woo spent the next five years preparing for the Hangzhou Asian Games. In January, he won the second edition of the ATP Tour’s Adelaide International, raising expectations for the Hangzhou Asian Games.
However, an injury to his right shoulder in February derailed his good form, and he was unable to regain 100 percent performance until just before the Asian Games.
The Korean Olympic Committee initially predicted that Korea would win three gold medals in tennis at the Hangzhou Asian Games. However, tennis has gotten off to a rocky start at the Games, with Korean star Kwon Soon-woo falling victim to a 1-2 loss to world No. 636 Kassidit Samrej of Thailand in the men’s singles on Friday.
Even more controversial than Kwon’s singles loss was his post-match behavior. After Kwon was eliminated from the men’s singles, he stormed across the court and slammed his racket to the ground. He expressed his anger by slamming his racket into a chair on the court. Samrez waited near the net to shake hands with Kwon after the game, but Kwon refused to turn toward Samrez.
Soon-woo Kwon’s behavior was highly criticized. In tennis, it is not uncommon to see players who have lost a match slam their rackets to vent their anger, but it is never a good idea.
While it’s true that Samrez did get on Kwon’s nerves by going to the bathroom for over 10 minutes after the first set and suddenly calling for an injury time in the second set when Kwon was playing well, that doesn’t justify Kwon’s refusal to shake his hand and slamming his racket to the ground in anger.
Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Jang Jang-ran, who traveled to Hangzhou to encourage the team, also said, “It is an international stage where we are competing under the flag of Korea, so it is necessary to play with a sense of responsibility as a national athlete. They should show a spirit of fair play that meets the expectations of the people,” she said, criticizing Kwon’s behavior.
As the controversy grew, Kwon visited Samrez on the morning of the 26th to formally apologize. In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Samrez said, “The Korean player (Kwon Soon-woo) came to me this morning and apologized for what happened the day before. He told me that his behavior was wrong and that he sincerely apologized,” he said. “I was embarrassed by his behavior, but I felt like I knew how he felt (as a fellow athlete). I understand and accept the irritation. I was fine,” he said.
For now, Kwon’s quarterfinal victory in the men’s doubles allowed him to get some of the recent controversy off his mind and prepare for the semifinals. His semifinal opponent is likely to be China, who face India in the quarterfinals. Only by overcoming the Chinese will they be able to bring home the coveted Asian Games gold medal.
Men’s doubles is a traditional Asian Games favorite for Korean tennis. Kim Chun-ho and Kim Woo-ryong won the gold medal in New Delhi in 1982, with Song Dong-wook and Lee Young-dae meeting in the final. The most recent winners were Jung Hyun and Lim Yong Kyu at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games 굿모닝토토.
Then, at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, Yoo Yoo-sun and Kim Bong-soo teamed up to win gold after a huge deuce battle in the third set. Yoo would go on to win the men’s doubles title and become a four-time Asian Games gold medalist.
Korea’s women’s doubles team of Baek Da-yeon and Jeong Jung-young have already clinched a bronze medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games.