Nineteen years of waiting is over – today Indonesia have won back the Thomas Cup.
This team just got better and better as the competition progressed and to beat China 3-0 in the final was a measure of how far they improved together. This band of brothers will always be renowned as the athletes who won the trophy for Indonesia’s 14th time with the legendary Hendra Setiawan as their captain.
Who could have predicted what this team was capable of? It was packed with talent but some of the athletes had been misfiring in recent games and others were looking lackluster. The first tie was a 5-0 leg-stretcher against Algeria but next came Thailand. This match was equal at 2-2 with both senior MS losing, so it required Rhustavito to step up at the end to keep his team winning. The contest with Taiwan was also finely balanced: this time Ginting and Christie won, only for the MD to lose. Again they had to look to Rhustavito to rescue the result. This victory was crucial to confirm seeding into the knockout stages.
The ‘El Classico’ against Malaysia in the quarter final was a tie I was regarding with a mixture of dread and excitement. It was lose-able. But this is when the team really started to look like they were contenders. LEE Zii Jia is in the form of his life but he was dispatched by Anthony in straight sets; the Minions overcame CHIA/SOH over three and the tie was wrapped up by Christie. No need for any five match dramas.
A semi-final against Denmark on their home turf is always going to be a daunting prospect; especially when the first encounter is against Olympic Champion Viktor Axelsen. It was playing out true to form until the third match when Jonatan Christie walked on court to battle Anders Antonsen. What followed was a truly great performance from a man who has struggled with his form for a while. Over 100 minutes he stayed cool, kept to his plan and exposed Antonsen’s bland attack and his lack of stamina. This blow to Danish ambitions was mortal, and Alfian/Ardianto executed the coup de grace for a 3-1 win.
One of the exceptional features of this team is that there was always a win around the corner from a loss. Their self-belief escalated as the days passed. They knew that history was waiting to be made and when the chances came against China they grabbed them. A 3-0 victory is really something. The last words belong to one of my favourite players ever. Hendra Setiawan is an absolute icon and a wonderful ambassador for badminton; I’m thrilled that it was him who raised the trophy on the podium
With the Semi-Final evenly balanced at one win each, Jonatan Christie stepped on court as the underdog in his match against Anders Antonsen. This MS2 was one that Denmark expected to hold, but a victory for either player would tip the momentum of the tie. They battled for 100 minutes over 3 sets and finally – with a stand-out performance – Christie emerged as the winner.
The first set was unbearably close; both athletes were competing at their limits. Christie was executing beautiful shots, but Antonsen resisted and countered by upping his tempo. AA was doing his best to force errors, but Christie stayed calm, stayed patient, and finally closed it out 25-23. There was more of the same quality in the second set. Christie’s wonderful, elegant play was exerting a lot of pressure but this time Antonsen pushed through and levelled 21-15.
Worryingly for Indonesia’s supporters the Dane roared into an early 6-1 lead in the decider. However, Christie kept his cool, stayed confident and kept asking AA tough physical questions which forced mistakes around the net. Eventually superior fitness blended with JC’s patient escalation of the physical game meant that Antonsen’s body gave out.
Antonsen fought hard but his familiar tactic of losing the second game in a hard match – so he can conserve energy for the decider – was removed from his repertoire by Christie winning the first set. Christie and his coaches must have considered this and their strategy of denying him a ‘rest,’ blended with one of the best games played by Christie for two or three years laid the foundation for victory and eventually the team’s progress to the final.
For the final the team have to start fresh, today is done now. Commiserations to the Danish players who gave everything on their home patch and congratulations to the Indonesian team who fight for Gold tomorrow.
This edition of the SC was lit up by the brilliance of the women players. Their spirit and strength were at the heart of the most successful teams.
The return by Misaki to Women’s Doubles for this tournament was a bittersweet gift to her admirers. The scratch pairing with Mayu Matsumoto had a few rough edges yet it was a treat to watch. Misaki is a genius at the net – her touch and vision are sensational – but the skill that lifts her to Goddess status is her will to win. At critical moments she can find a new level and seize victory. In the semi-final against Malaysia, especially in the second set, her drive and aggression were unplayable and they beat TAN/THINAAH to seal the win for Japan. I wish her all the best in her Mixed Double’s journey but I wish she was still playing WD.
Akane Yamaguchi – Most Valuable Player
At a pivotal time in the final Akane gave a stellar performance: she had the self-belief and resources to challenge the best and gave BirdJapan hope. She is an outstanding defender; in the final there were patches against CHEN Yufei when she was under intense pressure from the Olympic Champion. Her strategy of keeping her tempo and defending everything however hopeless meant that CYF could never really settle into the sort of rhythm that lets her win 5 or 6 points in a row. Often functioning on instinct, she was simply brilliant and won the match in two games 21-19, 21-16.
In the run-up to the final, CYF was always the nucleus of Chinese victory. In the quarter-final against Denmark her match against Mia Blichfeldt was a ‘must win’ because China – already trailing – risked elimination 0-3 if she could not level before the Men’s Singles. The tie was pulsating with the competitive advantage ebbing and flowing between the two athletes. She held her nerve under intense scrutiny and clung on in the decider to win. In the semi-final against Korea, she lost the first set to AN Seyoung but was resolute and sucked ASY into her patient, error-free style which suffocated resistance. It was only in the final against Yamaguchi’s faster pace that she lost a match.
Pearly TAN & THINAAH Muralitheran
The young Malaysian pair have been catching my eye for the last year or so and they have really started to challenge some of the more established doubles teams. They stood out in this competition because of their fighting spirit and unwillingness to concede defeat. Against GreyAp in the quarter final they battled the Olympic Champions for 90 minutes and saved six match points. There’s no doubt they are the rising stars of this sector and I can’t wait to watch them again.
Honourable Mentions Also To:
CHEN Qing Chen and JIA Yi Fan for closing out the final and refusing to be intimidated by MatsuMatsu. Gregoria for making a fight of it in Indonesia’s quarter final and ending the competition with a 100% record. Mia Blichfeldt for her epic encounter with CHEN Yufei, and Greysia Polii for ‘surviving’.
Congratulations to China for their twelfth win in the Sudirman Cup – even without some of their best-know stars they arrived as favourites. There were some nail-biting matches and Denmark came close to eliminating them but in the end they deserved their victory.