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
This was the most joyous Gold medal. Athletes can’t buy an Olympic victory; they earn one over years of perseverance and pain. Even then, some don’t reach their dream, so to watch Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu on top of the Tokyo podium was a glorious moment.
The origins of the triumph stretch back to a young Greysia who was focused on becoming a pro:
“I was born to be a badminton player. And I had that faith when I was 13, that I wanted to make history for Indonesia”
Along the way she endured a controversial exit from London 2012 and lost at the QF stage in Rio 2016 with Nitya Krishinda Maheswari. When the news broke that her partner required surgery and was going to retire Polii seriously considered hanging up her racket too.
Looking back this was when Eng Hian – the head of Indonesian Women’s Doubles – had a stroke of genius. He convinced her to delay retirement…to stay a little longer and help guide the progress of some of the younger players. In 2017 along came the talented but raw Apriyani Rahayu: aged 19 with a dislike of being told what to do, but intelligent and ambitious enough to recognise that this was a great opportunity to learn from Greysia. As time passed and the chemistry between them formed it started to occur to Polii that if she could instill a champion’s mindset into her young partner then maybe this could lead to great things. She would need patience, perseverance and to stay injury-free. Perhaps everything that had gone before was preparing her for this.
Fast Forward To Tokyo 2020
The tournament started brightly for GreyAp. Two wins out of two in the group stages and the importance of the final game against FukuHiro escalated. Suddenly here was an opportunity to emerge from the Round Robin as group winners and therefore avoid a seeded pair in the Quarter Final.
Wars of attrition pose little threat to the Indonesian duo. They have the physical resilience to endure a lot and that style of play offers a great platform for the sudden explosions of power from Apri or the creative vision and deft touches from Greysia. The Japanese top seeds could not handle the aggressive tempo of the contest. They were stubborn and resisted over three sets but folded in the last 21-8. So GreyAp entered the knockout rounds and I was feeling optimistic.
It’s been clear over the course of the Olympic badminton tournament that the Chinese athletes’ standards haven’t suffered from their lack of international competition. In the QF against DU/LI Greysia and Apri were asked some hard questions over three sets but they stood firm and refused to let the Chinese win.
The Semi-Final against LEE/SHIN was a daunting prospect but as the match progressed it was always GreyAp who had the upper hand. The competitive momentum that they had been building since the tournamnet began carried them on to the final. Another win, a guaranteed medal, history made.
This was a final waiting to be won. There was little point in waiting to be beaten by the hot favourites: I think Greysia and Apri realised this and it fed their ambitious attitude. Rahayu brought her ‘A game’ – make that her ‘A+ game’. Her energy and bravery constantly screwed down the pressure on CHEN/JIA. Her aggressive high tempo unsettled their rhythm and her noisy, boisterous attitude helped dominate the court space. At 1-1 in the first set there was a moment when Greysia took the shuttle mid-court on her backhand and pinged it crosscourt into empty space. At that moment I realised she knew they could win. The next point was gained by Polii’s delicate drop which emphasized her intent and desire. It was a close set as the four of them traded points but in the end GreyAp won it 21-19. Advantage Indonesia.
Set two opened with them racing to a 7-2 lead. Both players were decisive and self-assured. Unburdened by tension they were playing without inhibition and exuding self-belief. Everything they did worked. The Chinese tried to get back into the flow of the game but they were being swept along by the irresistable pace and vision of the Indonesians. Incredibly at 18-10 Polii’s strings broke but she had time to grab a replacement racket and win the rally.
There was an inevitability to the final moments as they had outclassed CHEN/JIA throughout the game. The (mostly) empty arena didn’t matter – we were all crying and screaming at our screens together as they celebrated victory. Often the difference between a Silver and Gold medal is simultaneously a universe and barely a whisker. The Indonesia duo had dominated in every area of the court and had played their best ever game at exactly the right moment. Congratulations Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu: Gold medallists and history makers!
I am anticipating badminton extraordinaire. The quality of this competition is outstanding with huge expectations of some players. Athletes from the Asian heartlands of the sport – Indonesia, Japan, China & Taiwan – are likely to dominate the matches but who will triumph at the end is not particularly clear cut.
We haven’t watched most of these pairs in competition with each other for over a year and it will be intriguing to see who have been able to add an extra dimension to their game or who has lost a bit of sharpness. Realistically most of them are going to need a match or two to kick-start their muscles and focus on victory. The pairs who adapt to the conditions and negotiate their group games to the knock out stages without expending too much energy or getting injured will have a big advantage. The absence of noisy, partisan crowd is also likely to have an impact on some of the players although I’m at a loss to anticipate whether it will help or hinder.
The competition has 16 pairs but only four are seeded. Each seeded pair heads a group (A,B,C, or D) and the tournament starts with a round robin to determine the top two pairs in each group who will then progress to the knockout stages.
Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo & Marcus Fernaldi Gideon
The Minions arrive in Tokyo as World Number Ones and top seeds but they are going to have to play the best games of their lives if they are going to get Gold. Group A will not allow any slip ups. Challenges to them will come from every direction as the calibre of their rivals is phenomenal. The venue is expected to be ‘slow’ and they must not allow themselves to get ensnared in an energy sapping smashing competitions. Opponents work hard to blunt their attacks so they must be prepared to reappraise tactics if the game is not going their way. Kevin has one of the best badminton brains in the sport and I’m in awe of his technical skills, superhuman reflexes and sheer desire, whilst Marcus’s strength and chemistry with his partner means the two of them have the weapons to beat everyone.
First they must negotiate their group and it’s vital they fight on their own terms. Their head to head records against their challengers in the first round gives no cause for concern but the reality of an Olympic stage after relative international inactivity for a while means that everyone is a threat. Kevin has brilliance embedded deep and these two would be worthy winners at the end of the tournament. I’m anxious though about their head-to-head record with Endo/Watanabe (2-6) because it seems inevitable that they will end up playing each other in a high stakes game. Prediction: Final
Seeded four this pair are a hazard to Indonesian ambitions. They begin their campaign in Group B and should progress without too much fuss, although Sozonov/Ivanov might be able to ask them some tough questions. Over the last few years they just seem to get better and better. Left-handed Yuta is a dazzling player, his vision and speed are at Kevin levels and this is reflected in their superb head to head record against the Minions (6-2). He is relentless but I often wonder if his threat is diluted by competing in two sectors; I’m fascinated to see how he copes with these demands overlaid by the pressure of a home Olympics. Endo has always been a top player but something about this partnership has liberated him to dream big. Perhaps his stubborn, reliable approach just nicely balances Yuta’s pzazz. Prediction: Final
Hendra Setiawan & Mohammad Ahsan
Could these two nurse their old bones to a Golden final. The day I watched them win on three legs at the All England in 2019 was the day I fell in love with Indonesian badminton. No superlative can do this pair justice but they are consistent winners of the best tournaments including Hendra’s Gold at the 2008 Olympics with his then partner, the late Markus Kido. Nevertheless, in Thailand they were beaten twice by Lee/Wang; they just could not contain the exuberant Taiwanese. At the time it was clear that Ahsan was competing with a dodgy leg so I hope that they have arrived in Japan in good shape. Their rivals in Group D are tough but if they can get the results they need with no injuries then they will be into the next round. Prediction Semi-Final
Lee Yang & Wang Chi-Lin
The most likely challengers for the top spot in Group A are the Taiwanese pair: Lee Yang/Wang Chi-Lin. These two were unstoppable in Thailand, winning three out of three tournaments. I think the most rewarding wins for them must have been against Ahsan and Setiawan in the SF of the Toyota Thailand Open and the WTF. Ahsan was not at 100% but it was clear that the Dads could not live with the Taiwanese muscular approach and it must have been a massive confidence boost to beat such sporting icons. Prediction Semi-Final
Li Jun & Liu Yu Chen
These two have a lot of attacking power and can use their aggression in Tokyo to damage everyone’s dreams. They both move well, have good 3D awareness of the court spaces and can use their height for some steep shots. I think Liu’s netplay will often allow him to gain an advantage right at the start of a rally; he is hard to pass with his long reach and steadfast approach. These two have been restricted to domestic competition since YAE20, and had been in a comparative slump prior to Covid. Maybe this break will have rejuvenated their desire or they could have added some refinements to their tactics. The current status of all the Chinese competitors is difficult to analyse because we haven’t been able to watch them for ages. I’m sure that the Chinese coaches will have prepared them well and if they are back to their best then the podium beckons.
Choi Solgyu & Seo Seungjae
Seo Seungjae’s contract issues have been put to one side for the duration of the Olympics. Or should I say that the suspension given him by the BKA will not take effect until after Tokyo. Of course this is great news for his partners in MD and XD and reveals how important he is to Korea’s medal hopes. He and Choi Solgyu are in the same group (D) as Ahsan/Setiawan and Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik so there are some hard battles ahead.
Keigo Sonoda & Takeshi Kamura
Can the ‘second’ Japanese pair force their way into the medal reckoning? Their brawny, boisterous style can overwhelm rivals and enthrall spectators. They are tireless and so noisy in their mutual support between points that they amplify the pressure on court. Kamura’s work around the front; his anticipation and reading of the game allied to his partners relentless energy and enthusiasm means that they can dominate matches. However their head to head stats against the absolute top pairs are weak (Minions 11-5, Dads 5-2, Endo/Watanabe 4-2, Li/Liu 7-3) so they are going to have to bring something fresh to the tournament if they want to get on the podium. They are in an intriguing position – unseeded – in Group C with the Chinese pair; they should be able to get to the knockouts and then let’s see who they play in the latter stages.
Any Dark Horses?
Lots of these pairs have the ability to trouble the favourites but whether they can do it consistently and push on to a medal is hard to say. Lane and Vendy performed superbly in Thailand and Shetty and Rankireddy have plenty of potential but I think this outing will be part of their journey to Paris success in 2024. Battling it out to progress from Group B behind Watanabe/Endo are the Danes Rasmussen/Astrup and Russians Sozonov/Ivanov. This Olympics is being held under unique protocols so athletes who can seize every opportunity, stay fit and adapt to discomfort without being distracted will be the ones who triumph.
Who will win Gold?
Can anyone stop an All-Indonesian final? A lot depends on the draw after the group stage is completed but the pair who bring intensity and fokus right from the start will be at an advantage. This is going to be a strange covid-adjusted Olympics with few fans present but millions watching from a distance. Although many think that the conditions at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza don’t naturally suit the Minions style they are triple winners of the Japan Open so the reults suggest they relish the arena. Kevin and Marcus must solve the Yuta problem but this is a fabulous opportunity to cement their place amongst the games greats. They will have to overcome some tough tests but they have everything within themselves that they need to get Gold.
The qualifications are over, the invites are sent; we can see athletes standing on the brink of greatness. Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon are world #1 and two players who have the talent and ambition to win Gold.
The Men’s Doubles contest will be edge-of-the-seat stuff for fans as the Minions style naturally amplifies the intensity of matches. Sukamuljo plays without restraint; his split-second analysis and retaliation raises the pulse of the spectators and the game. He is the architect of a controlled mayhem within the boundaries of the court– his high tempo style is so unpredictable yet it never seems to wrong-foot his partner. Kevin is an entertainer who loves to show what he can do. He is an extraordinary competitor who has been set free to express his talent because of his wonderful relationship on court with Marcus.
Marcus Gideon is the anchor of the partnership. Behind the mercurial Kevin his work rate at the back of the court is huge. Kevin’s random creativity fits well with Marcus and their chemistry together is magic. I adore the way their energy sparks drama around the net. If opponents are not broken by the fast flat game extra pressure rests on Gideon. Clever rivals neutralise them with shots that are designed to disarm their aggression and it’s obvious that this tests their patience.
Nothing is certain in the Olympic arena except that the path to the podium will be unforgiving. The competition begins with 16 pairs made into four groups each headed by one of the top 4 qualifiers. It’s vital that they bring a single-minded focus to the court because only the top four are kept apart at this stage. This means that a group could contain Astrup/Rasmussen, Kamura/Sonoda, and LEE/WANG. We’ll find out more about this when the draw is held prior to the start of the competition but the possibility exists for some brutal opening matches.
I think their main challenge is finding a way to beat pairs like Endo/Watanabe who can withstand the flat fast game. Yuta can engage with Kevin at the net and the Japanese understand that by taking the pace off the shuttle they can exert sustained pressure to frustrate the Indonesian pair. Lifting high to the back of the court is a strategy we see used to blunt Sukamuljo’s attack. There’s no doubt that Kevin’s ambitious vision is the key to victory so long as his partner can keep the shuttle in play. His perception of space, and his anticipation of it opening up, could be what sets them on the road to glory. His agile badminton intellect fused with a ‘quiet eye’ and the physical ability to execute the shot will make the difference. The phenomenon of ‘quiet eye’ is well-known in sport psychology – it’s that tracking gaze fixed on a target just before a decisive movement. It’s analytical observation that knows what is important and when it’s important.
What does the Olympic tournament hold for the Minions? There is a huge weight of expectation that rests on their shoulders and their coaches and fans have to protect them – as far as possible – from unnecessary pressure that could dilute their focus. They have to be able to compete with a quiet mind. I don’t mean that we should expect the Olympics to be a picnic for them but I want stress to be fuel for great performances. There is no inevitability to progress. Can they take on Japan’s finest and defuse the threat? Taiwan and China will be tough opponents and of course, if things go well the seeding could unwind as far as an all-Indonesian final.
The Indonesian system routinely delivers standout players who have incomparable technical skills fused with great defence and they compete with flair and spirit. Fans all over the world are longing to see the top seeds at the top of the podium but it’s likely that this will be an event that demands more from them than any other. Men’s Doubles is going to be a fierce contest between equals so the players who adapt quickly to the conditions in the hall and the odd empty atmoshere will be at an advantage. Kevin and Marcus won at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza back in 2019 and this will be their opportunity to cement their legendary staus in badminton. Good luck, play well, have fun & no injuries!
Today two brave warriors fought through the pain barrier together and probably seized a place at the World Tour Finals.
The iconic Dads are renowned worldwide for their match genius. The rock-ribbed duo will force a win when all hope seems lost. Remember the celebrated victory on three legs at the All England in 2019? This R1 win against Ellis & Langridge was on a par with that. Perhaps it was an even ‘better’ victory because we would all crawl to the arena to participate in a final but this was a game in the first round.
Shockingly the English pair raced to the first mid-game interval with an 11-2 lead. Morten spotted that Ahsan was in trouble with a leg injury. All was lost.
All was not lost. Slowly, slowly they dragged themselves back into the set. At 15-16 down there was a draining 79 shot rally and I feared for Ahsan as it progressed; but he was brave and scored the winning shot to level the score at 16-16. The set progressed to 21-21 and then somehow the Indonesian pair got two points and they were over the line. But could they continue?
As the second set progressd it became clear that the English players had lost focus. They didn’t exploit Ahsan’s lack of mobility enough. On the other side of the net the Dads drew on all their experience and tactical nous. Setiawan covered for his partner: they changed their tactics, kept the scoreboard ticking over and the rallies short. Into the interval leading 11-7. Two fighters refusing to concede. Incredibly they kept going. Calmly dealing with everything the English pair could throw at them they sealed the second set and so the match 21-15.
I named Ahsan as my player of the day but I could easily have said “Setiawan” because together these two become more than mere athletes. They are lionhearts who proved once again why they are legends. Bravo! This was an absolute priviledge to watch!
Indonesia’s badminton achievements at the Olympics has been outstanding. Along with rivals from Korea and China their players are the aristocrats of the sport. Badminton is a recent addition to the games, it was only introduced in 1992 and since then, the nation’s athletes have won at least one Gold at every tournament bar London 2012.
Men’s Doubles: with three pairs in the top 10 the depth of Indonesia’s talent in this sector is extraordinary. Power, speed, net skills and resilience are all key, but the essence of a successful doubles team is balance between the two players. The magnificent World #1s Sukamuljo & Gideon have been at the top for a while. Kevin’s sublime ability paired with Marcus’s more muscular game is almost irresistable, but they are not invincible. Their millions of fans must be anticipating the olympics feeling a mixture of impatience and anxiety because if an opponent manages to disrupt their prefered formation they can be vulnerable (as we saw in the 2020 All England Final). Endo/Watanabe were able to win because their strategy stopped Kevin dominating at the front. Ahsan & Setiawan are ranked #2. Hendra Setiawan is one of the greatest MD players ever; already an Olympic Gold Medalist (2008 Beijing with Markis Kido), he has won everything and then won it it again. I get goosebumps when I think about the Daddies after watching them win on three legs to clinch the 2019 All England: they are inspirational figures who play with great heart. Commentators often point to their age – it’s not irrelevent of course but that it is a small disadvantage that is outweighed by their poise and experience. Lets not forget Alfian/Ardianto: ranked #6 but as things stand these two will miss Tokyo because of the quota. This must be heart-breaking for them but the only attitude they can take is to keep competing. They are hungry and their time will come. Prediction: I’m frightened of Endo/Watanabe but I’ll say Gold for one of these pairs.
Men’s Singles: Anthony Sinisuka Ginting is a sublime player, but he can be simultaneously exciting and infuriating. His inconsistency costs him titles. When he is at his spectacular best the speed of his reactions, his touch at the net, and his courage means that he is a genuine Gold medal prospect. I would love to see a MomoGi final; at the moment Momota has the edge in their encounters but Anthony is still a developing athlete and I’m excited to see how he’ll emerge from the current hiatus. Jonatan Christie should be getting to Tokyo ranked #7. Another fine player, if he can get through the round robin stage unscathed he could have a chance at a medal. Prediction: At least one medal…& I crave a final with Anthony v. Kento.
Women’s Doubles: Two of my favourite players – Polii & Rahayu – should go to Tokyo ranked #8. This will be Greysia Polii’s last Olympics (possibly her last major competition) and she is another inspirational athlete who has served her sport well. The women’s sector is stuffed full of brilliant double’s teams and so these two may struggle to make the podium. The key to success or failure will be how Apri is deployed. We know that they can defend all day but predictable play will not be enough. I loved the way they battled when they won at the Indonesia Masters back in January and at the time I felt that their game was evolving. Apri was much more aggressive at the front and they were able to exert prolonged pressure on their opponents. Prediction: Maybe a Bronze? I hope so.
Mixed Doubles: One of the legacies of Liliyana Natsir is the XD title from the Rio games. Can the Indonesia players defend this successfully? The Mixed tournament is quite open so although on paper the Chinese duos Zheng/Huang and Wang/Huang look to be favourites at lot will depend upon how Jordan/Oktavianti and Faizal/Widjaja progress through the early stages. This competition is all about seizing the moment and if Praveen Jordan can be at his imperious peak at the right time the Gold is possible although it’s too close to call.
Womens Singles: All fans of this sector know that it is overflowing with dazzling players so for Gregoria Mariska Tunjung to survive the cut and get into the knockout stage would be great. She is a wonderful player to watch, with impressive skill and imagination. For her to make headway at the tournament outside factors will need to be in her favour in addition to her playing to her potential. If she can build up some momentum and confidence anything can happen. Tokyo will perhaps be a stage on her journey to more success rather than a defining competition.
So what then can we expect in Tokyo? Owing to the worldwide C-19 crisis everyone has had to endure disruption to training programmes and anxiety and frustration. The athletes who will triumph at the delayed games are those who have been able to maintain focus and keep their competitive hunger without burn-out. It’s a tricky balancing act because no-one can stay at peak performance for ever. Most competitiors training regimes would have been carefully constucted to peak for July 2020; so now they need to keep the pot simmering without it boiling dry. On the other hand, a break from relentless touring and a chance to address chronic injuries could be a key factor. Those who can step back and make adjustments without losing their momentum will have a huge advantage.
As an outsider looking in I see badminton as the Olympic sport where Indonesia dominates – not simply because of talented players but the influence of Indonesian coaches can be seen all over the world in other national teams. Of course we cannot ignore China’s leading position or Japan’s current abundance of world-beaters but this is what makes the tournament in prospect so thrilling. We have had extra time to build our anticipation for this event, when we emerge from quarantine and the BWF tour resumes it will be wonderful to support our favourites back on the road towards Olympic Gold.
“…we still have a lot of work on ahead of the Olympics…” Greysia Polli
GreyAp’s victory in the Women’s Doubles final at the Indonesia Masters was sensational. In an emotionally charged Istora the home crowd roared the fight to it’s climax. Fruergaard & Thygesen held match point at 20-19 after three punishing sets. Polii and Rahayu refused to give in. Again the Danes held match point at 21-20 but for a second time they would not concede. The Indonesians suddenly found some last bursts of desire and determination and sealed the win 23-21.
2020 has begun well for Greysia Polii and Apriana Rahayu but there were times in 2019 when it seemed as though the partnership had run it’s course. In the first half of the year they won the India Open but they failed to build on this and did not seem to be able to dictate the course of their matches . Results were flat and there was a worry that they were using tactics that would never get them to the top of the podium. There was a palpable feeling of stagnation about their strategy and style.
In August in Basle they won bronze at the BWF world championships. The QF match was a difficult tussle against CHEN & JIA who bombarded them with shuttles hit with alarming venom. It was hard to see how they would survive this gruelling game but they rejected easy options and stood their ground, eventually winning 25-23 23-21. In hindsight this tournament was a turning point. I think that because of Polii’s subsequent injury issues they had to have an honest conversation with themselves and their coaches about their future. In the past they often seemed happy ‘just’ to defend in matches but this was adding to their competitive decline. Other pairs had worked them out and a game based around long rallies, clears and defence was not enough.
GreyAp’s participation in the SEA Games was odd. At the time other key Indonesian players were preparing for the World Tour Finals. However, in Manila they won Gold. Greysia Polii already held three silvers from this event with two other partners (Jo Novita & Nitya Krishinda Maheswari) but this time, with Apri Rahayu she finally got the Gold. Reports coming out of the Philippines were positive. But straight after the tournament ended they had to jump on a plane to China. They arrived in Guangzhou late, missed the Gala dinner, then never really got going at the round robin stage. They didn’t progess after losing every game. Greysap fans everywhere went into the break feeling confused. Was the SEA Games victory an anomaly?
The first tournament of the year – The Malaysia Masters 2020 – saw them lose in the semi final to the eventual winners. There were reasons to be cheerful. And so we come to their ‘home’ tournament: The Indonesia Masters. We all know what happened next, but I want to look at how it happened because I think we have witnessed them transforming into a much sharper, more effective team.
The key to this change has been Apri. She has always been brave, aggressive, and works hard for the team. Now she has discovered something extra.
Recently Apri has been playing some XD with Tontowi Ahmad. It is a cliche in badminton that women who play XD often improve their confidence at the net for WD but I think this has happened. It must also be fantastic for her self belief that a legend like Tontowi wants to play with her. She has a focused hunger in the forecourt now. There is a drive to go and hunt for points and we are seeing great interceptions. This in alliance with the short flat rallies she can initiate with Greysia in support put immense pressure on opponents.
Their flat game has a great tempo and the sequences they can build from this put them at a competitive advantage. Both of them can execute steep smashes and they are relentless. They still have the stamina and appetite for long rallies but now Apri has improved her spatial awareness. She will change the direction of the shuttle in a rally to exploit space. Her appetite for winning the points has sharpened. Of course they are still great defenders and getting winners out of defence is a very powerful way of dominating an opponent.
The Indonesia Masters is done. There is a bigger goal that we are all starting to look at. The Tokyo Olympics is looming. The commentators are all looking at their rivals as favourites for a medal. The strength in depth of the Japanese WD pairs is such that we wonder which of them will miss out in the qualification process; CHEN & JIA are another two challengers who must believe they have a great chance of success.
I would love Greysia Polii and Apriyana Rahayu to be there in the medals, and why not? Here are two players who are so committed to their dream that they have had the courage to reshape their game. The key point is that they have changed; this makes them less predictable and therefore more dangerous. On court they are always mutually supportive, always smiling at each other, it’s obvious they have the temperament to hold their nerve when others crack. Greysia has so much experience of the elite competitions, she knows what is required and she has realised that this is it – no second chances for her now, retirement threatens. I hope we see them on that podium, I hope they stay fit, keep developing and do themselves justice. Go girls!
That will be the first answer if you question any badminton lovers or any Indonesian about Susy Susanti. Understandable because she was the first Olympic Gold medalist from Indonesia: that victory in Spain gave the nation joy, pride and put Indonesia’s name on the list of elite countries who have an Olympic gold medal. It made the world take notice of Indonesian badminton.
Whilst the Olympic success is surely her biggest, most famous achievement, she also excelled in the other major tournaments. She burst onto the international stage when she stormed to the final of the All England at the age of 18. Her opponent was LI Lingwei – one of the best women singles of all time – on that occasion she was beaten but she turned defeat into fuel for future triumph.
England became a happy hunting ground for Susy. Over an extraordinary five years she won the All England title 4 times; this included the last time at Wembley and the first in Birmingham. Ironically, the one she didn’t win is in the year when she won the Olympic gold. This is more a reflection of the Chinese strength in Women’s Singles at the time rather than any deficiency on her part. In 1993 her successes in England continued when she collected the IBF World Championship Gold; the final in Birmingham was over 3 sets when she beat Bang Soo-hyun of Korea.
Although she is a Women’s Singles player, her understanding of what it means to be part of a team is exemplary. Her commitment to Indonesian badminton has been unwavering down the years. A great example of this is the role she has played in her country’s Uber Cup success. By the start of the 1994 competition China was the ruler of women’s team badminton: they had won the previous five editions of the bi-annual event. Indonesia’s last appearance in the final had been in 1986. The stage was set for something extraordinary. Whilst the Istora crowd roared, Susi won all her matches. Buoyed by the first victory, Lili Tampi and Finarsih doubled the team lead before China’s strength in depth showed and they forced it to a decider. That’s when two future legends squared up for the first time. The then not yet fifteen Mia Audina beat ZHANG Ning to win the cup on home soil. Two years later they repeated the feat in Hong Kong to retain the trophy.
For me, Susy is like a lionness around the badminton court. Her cold, intimidating stare helped to unnerve her rival across the net as she served. She favoured long rallies, and her attritional style was supported by her stamina which meant she was fit enough to cover every inch of the court through her game. She fed off opponent’s mistakes and fatigue. She is known for her athleticism and flexibility; like a gymnast she would get low to take shots at the limit of her reach by an extreme lunge which was more like the splits.
In Atlanta she won her second Olympic medal then finally retired in 98 after the Asian Games citing pregnancy as the main reason. She was off court but could not leave badminton entirely. Along with her husband Alan Budikusuma she established a racket company called ASTEC. She remain off court and out of the camera’s bright lights until 2008 when destiny called.The Indonesia Uber Cup team was at its lowest. They did not qualify for the 2006 competition in Japan after finishing outside of the top 4 in the qualifying round two years earlier. They only qualified to participate in 2008 because it was being hosted in Jakarta. The published target at that time was just to advance from the group, but that team was headed by Susy as manager. With her encouragement they achieved much more than that. Not only did they advance from the group stage but they charged into the final with a never say die performance. Badminton popularity in Indonesia, which has been dimmed since the turn of millenia, suddenly rekindled. So many people were motivated by this feat to start to play or follow badminton again. We can still see the influence now after that final. I think the current crop of Indonesian young players is partly the result of her impact.
Susy is still the only women’s singles player to hold the All England, the Olympic and the World Championship simultaneously. She is still the only Indonesia player that has won all the major team and individual events and that includes the Sudirman Cup. Her achievements mean she is one of the greatest players of all time, a true inspiration to badminton players and fans everywhere.
With a sparkling and inventive style, Anthony Ginting is one of the most exciting players to watch on the men’s singles circuit. His creativity magnifies his aggression to give him an irresistable approach to competition.
I often wonder if he ever had gymnastic training in early life. He is very well balanced – great poise, springy feet, so swift around the court – he can reach the furthest corner. Possibly he could do with a little more height (he is 171cm), but he compensates for this lack of reach with his supersonic speed. His rapid reactions let him play at the net one moment, the next, he is smashing from the back trams.
The essence of his style is that he wants to win. All players profit from their rival’s mistakes in a match but I think that his primary strategy is to play to seize the initiative. He has a very courageous approach to his shot selection. The percentage game is not for him. He will go toe-to-toe at the net or aim for the lines. I love his sequence of shots when he traps his opponent into a weak lift from the net and then smashes cross court for the point. He has a very strong ‘flat game’: his drives across the net are so hostile no-one can resist them. They remind me of the approach of the Minions when they start to bombard their foes at the other side of the court. The reverse-slice backhand straight drop that he plays is a jaw dropping thing of beauty that should be commemorated in the Badminton Hall of Fame.
Technically he is a very accomplished player, no surprise given his background in the badminton hotspot of Indonesia. The coaches and other players he works with are among the best in the world. He has the most sublime net skills to enhance his aggressive style: a really lovely touch that can snare his opponent into responding to him with a lift. He can vary the pace of the shuttle at will and this can be shattering to play against. Anticipation is a key part of the game for all elite players. Anthony’s deception skills lead to confusion and delay in response and at this level a split second of lag can mean the difference between winning and losing.
His expert racket skills and instantaneous reactions make him a stellar defender. He will reach the shot and retaliate. This can make for some spectacular high-speed exchanges in his matches. Psychologically it is the antidote to an opponent’s venom because it is difficult to intimidate him.
Gill Clarke wondered aloud on air once whether he ‘needs’ to get a good start in a match to get the win. His offensive style certainly benefits from momentum but I think this would be true of most players.
It’s impossible to think about Ginting in isolation; his rivalry with Kento Momota has the potential to motivate both of them to glittering heights. There is an frisson of adversarial creativity to their meetings. At the moment Momota has the upper hand but it is only a slight advantage and over the next three or four years I think they could inspire each other to legendary status. The bottom line at the moment is that Anthony makes too many mistakes; Momota realises this and will prolong rallies until the inevitable happens. Of course there are far more subtle elements at play than only this, but here is where the balance of power lies at present. It can change.
His dignified and sporting reaction to his shock loss in the HK Open final – in part due to a shocking umpire decision at match point – shows what a great asset he is to the badminton community. I don’t think he is anywhere near his full potential yet; there’s a lot of sweat and toil on the training courts to come. I’m a huge fan of his and would love to see him become one of the superstars of the game. If he could cut out some of his mistakes without losing his willingness to be brave he will be a major force in the men’s sector in the years ahead.
Men’s Singles is dominated by the majestic Momota; as the tour exchanges Denmark for France we can expect him to overshadow his side of the draw, but aside from him there are stacks of other athletes who could triumph at this competition if they can find consistency alongside skill. The men’s tournament will be full of explosive power, dazzling speed and brilliant shots.
Kento Momota: Unbeatable?
Will anyone ask the imperious Momota a question he cannot answer on court in Paris? This phenomenal player has brushed aside all challenges this year; it’s hard to identify any weakness. This puzzle is intriguing. Other players have better smashes, better endurance and more delicate net play but no other athlete can match his mental strength, consistency and his all round game. He is criticised for being too passive at times but it gets results so he doesn’t have to apologise for that! Often I think he plays at a constant pace (albeit fast) so it would be intriguing if a rival took a more stop/start approach to a match with him to see if it would disrupt his concentration. Prediction: Final (of course).
Antony Ginting: Seeded 8
Ginting is such a wonderful and exasperating player to follow. He’s more of an artist than the majority of the men’s players, his touch and technical skill is a joy to watch. I genuinely feel he could challenge Momota if only he could be more consistent. Crashing out in R1 of the Danish Open is simply unacceptable and yet it was unsurprising. He could meet Momota in the QF and so my prediction is QF exit, probably without his opponents sweaty shirt this time.
One of the best loved players on the circuit, Viktor’s year has been disrupted by injury and his susceptibility to summer allergies. However his performance in his home town of Odense at the Denmark Open saw him returning to his best. Although he lost in the SF to CHEN Long he played well: his smashes were fast and steep, his net shots were intelligent and delicate – it was a close match. He is returning to his best form. The road to the final is a tough one at the bottom half of the draw to include CHOU Tien Chen and Anders Antonsen. Prediction Final. Maybe.
CHOU Tien Chen: The OTHER Great Player From Taiwan
Seeded 2 he has a demanding path to the final but he is a fierce and strong competitor with a great smash. When he won the Indonesian Open against Antonsen he was able to control the net and keep the pressure on without being particularly spectacular in his play. The remarkable thing was his endurance and willingness to give everything for the title. To beat the #1 seed he will have to bring a bit more to the party. Prediction SF.
CHEN Long: The Defending Champion
CHEN Long’s struggles with motivation since winning Olympic Gold in Rio are well-documented. However, I think this is probably his only weakness. He has the might of the Chinese coaching gang behind him, and a great all-round game where he is able to control the net to force points. His victory over Viktor in Odense seemed to be because he stuck with it, kept the shuttle in play, kept body smashing and seemed able to turn the screw at the last few points of every game. It’s a simple enough strategy that proved to be effective. Prediction SF
Antonsen’s results have been on an upward trajectory over the last few months, he’s aggressive, fast and agile around the court. He was the beaten finalist at the Indonesian Open (to CHOU Tien Chen), the World Championship Final (to Momota) and beaten semi-finalist at the Denmark Open (to Axelsen). There’s no doubt he is a rising star of the men’s game but his physical prowess can be matched by the other seeds so he has to ensure he brings something more to his matches; more strategy and deception allied to his brute power. Prediction QF
If Indonesia is going to win titles in the singles sector then Jojo should be a player who steps up alongside Ginting. Just like Ginting his form ebbs and flows to frustrate his millions of supporters. He’s capable of beating any player in the top ten – including Momota – he needs to exploit his emotions and focus the passion to benefit his superb skills. He could face a double Dane onslaught with possible Antonsen QF and then Axelsen SF: it’s a lot to ask for him to reach the final of this one. Prediction SF.
Often I seen MS in terms of who, if anyone, is going to upset Momota? Realistically it’s hard to see beyond him. Shi Yuqi is expected to be absent owing to his continued recuperation from ankle injury. If only Ginting or Christie could borrow some of the Minions reliable form then the men’s side of singles could be as open and unpredictable as the womens game. As it is, Momota is in magnificent form, no one is able to unsettle his composure. It looks like this is another tournament waiting for him to win.