2020 Imagined Olympic Finals: Men’s Doubles

There’s a saying that there are only two stories in the world. The first is about a person who goes on a journey and the second is when a stranger rides into town. Well, I’ve got the third story, it’s cool because it combines the original two plots. It’s about a duo who go on a journey, arrive in a strange town, AND WIN A GOLD MEDAL.

Super Saturday in Tokyo and the hugely anticipated Men’s Doubles final was contested by the World #1 Kevin Sukamuljo/Marcus Gideon and LIU Yuchen/LI Junhui. These pairs have met before at the Musashino Forest Sportsplaza, the dilemma for both was how to use the slow conditions to their best advantage. Throughout the tournament opinion had differed regarding tactics, and in fact no particular strategy seemed consistently successful other than perhaps the need for stamina.

Screenshot From BWF TV

Each pair had very different routes to the ultimate match. The Minions had to dive deep into their mental reserves during the SF against Endo/Watanabe. A three set thriller beset by nerves, unforced errors and inspired net play by Kevin. Watanabe was Superman but he just could not find a way past the Indonesian players; he’ll have another attempt at Gold later in XD. Although Chinese athletes have struggled to make an impression on the badminton tournament here, LI/LIU enjoyed a quite serene progress to the final. The two set SF against Rankireddy/Shetty was a clinical dissection of a duo whose time will come.

Set 1: 21-14 LI/LIU

It was a brutal first set. The Chinese duo seemed determined to play their own game; the barrage of steep smashes that rained down onto Sukamuljo and Gideon was awesome. The twin towers disasterous tactics from the 2018 Japan Open were firmly forgotten and they stayed on the attack permanently. At the interval the score was 11-8 but they pulled away and sealed the game quite emphatically.

Set 2: 19-21 Gideon & Sukamuljo Fightback

The cameras were focused on the Indonesians at the interval. Their demeanour was relaxed and calm, Gideon rolling his neck just listening to the coach. The Indonesian fans behind the back tramlines were uncharacteristically quiet, maybe not worried yet but definitely thoughtful – some of those spectators I recognised from earlier matches of the Olympic tournament and it was clear they were hardcore badminton lovers. Gill Clark and Morten started to speculate about a two set final.

Liu to serve and instantly he was put under pressure by a flat aggressive return. The rally was more than 60 shots old when Gideon executed a delicate drop that died at LI’s feet. The points rolled by, & into the interval at 10-11 the Chinese pair just with their noses in front but we all sensed that the balance of power was shifting. The second half of the second set was Kevin Sukamuljo’s stage. He seized the initiative at the net, and despite LIU’s long reach he was passed repeatedly. The Chinese men were desperately trying to vary the tempo of shots to jolt the Minions off momentum but they failed again and again. Kevin was liberated by to be King of the Forecourt by Marcus’s pugnacity and energy. The key to the swing in the balance of power was the inability of the Chinese players to score points from the long rallies; Marcus and Kevin had figured it out that if they were able to stay in their favoured positions and keep the shuttle in play then the chances would come. Its a simple strategy but exhausting. Their counter-attacking expertise with their solid defending got the Minions back in the fight – one set each.

Set 3: Gold!

LI/LIU resumed their positions on court but there was a pause while Sukamuljo fiddled with his shoelace. Years of training, planning and sweat were focused on the next twenty minutes. LIU taps his partners hand and smiles. Kevin to serve, a flick, not good enough and so it’s smashed right back at him. Typical outrageous Sukamuljo returns it with a behind the back shot that tips the net cord, and expires as LI dives forward despairingly. Lucky. Then a run of 3 more points in a row until disaster. Gideon smashes, breaks a string and cannot defend effectively enough. The momentum swings back to the Chinese and they go into the interval 11-8 ahead. Ten points from Gold.

However ten points from Gold is a lot of shots with a lot of running, jumping and stretching. The Chinese players are in constant movement but Kevin is picking up points with precision and verve. He is a man who adores the big stage and where better to showcase his sublime ability than the last moments of an Olympic final? The speed of the rallies was supersonic, the four athletes perfectly focused on the shuttle whilst the crowd screamed.

Point by point the Indonesians got in front. Their play was brave and exhilerating. Exchanges of hard flat drives keep the Chinese at a slight disadvantage. Kevin constantly taunting the twin towers with shots just slightly out of reach or just in reach but forcing a weak response for Gideon to kill. 20-19 match point.

20-19 match point. Kevin to serve, nothing is certain.


This never happened, it’s all fiction. Feel free to write your own so that your favourites win.


If you enjoyed this then take a look at my piece about Kevin and Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/ or this one by Daniel DM about Chinese Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/02/chinese-mens-doubles/

I’ve written an imagined MomoGi final as well https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/05/2020-imagined-olympic-finals-mens-singles-momogi/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Yonex All England 2020 pt 2

Doubles: The Bonfire of My Anxieties

Doubles is intense, it is the supreme embodiment of badminton. Fierce battles rage across the court; pace, power and guile form the contours of the match. The finest tournament in the world has an extra pressure this time around because it is Olympic year: many still strive to win enough ranking points to compete in Tokyo. This is great news for fans who love drama and stress but if you need a quiet life…look away now!

“Two people until the end, do not regret” Matsutomo

Indonesia

The magnificent MD athletes from Indonesia simply shine on every stage. Intensity, resilience and desire add up to some wonderful players.

The 2019 title holders – Mohammad Ahsan & Hendra Setiawan – famously won on 3 legs last year after an all-consuming final. I love them. They are outstanding players and incredible ambassadors for the sport. They have every chance of playing in the final so long as they carefully manage their old legs.

Gideon & Sukamuljo are top seeds and have a heavy weight of expectation loaded on their shoulders. At their best, with Marcus as reliable foundation and Kevin riffing around him they are simply unbeatable. Gorgeous shots, dazzling reactions and relentless athleticism raise the sport to heights few others can aspire to.

Fajar Alfian & Muhammad Rian Ardianto are seeded 5 and got to the Semi Final last year. Their high energy explosive game puts them firmly in the ‘fast ‘n’ furious’ camp; they should still be in the competiton by finals weekend.

If we consider WD then Greysia Polii & Apri Rahayu have had a great start to 2020 and if they play in the same way that took them to victory at the Indonesia Masters they will get to the semi-finals. I think they are more successful when Apri is decisive at the forecourt. I’ve mentioned before that their game and competitive strategy is evolving. Her power and confidence means they can really dominate rallies – they shouldn’t resort to defensive clears as a default tactic. I think they were fortunate to win the Spanish Masters because there were times when their gameplan slipped back to the 2019 version of themselves. The other Indonesian pair, Ramadhanti & Sugiarto, are in the same part of the draw as Greyap.

Greysap on their way to victory at the Indonesian Masters. Screenshot BWF

Japan

Park Joo-Bong – the legendary head coach – has overseen Japanese players challenge the traditional Chinese dominance in all sectors. This often means that their biggest rivals are each other.

As far as WD is concerned we are in the heart-rending position of knowing that only 2 out of the 3 top pairs from Japan are going to qualify to play in their home Olympics. The quest for points overshadows tournaments and I think the risk is that the four players who make the cut will be mentally exhausted by the time July arrives. That said, a win at the All England could virtually cement some players positions. Matsumoto & Nagahara are seeded 2 and were runners-up in 2019. Fukushima & Hirota are third seeds and are desperate to progress. And so we come to Matsutomo & Takahashi who are seeded 7 in Birmingham. Can the defending Olympic Champions get a podium finish? They need to focus every atom of experience and desire because they have a hard road to the final which includes a possible CHEN/JIA QF followed by compatriots who need success too. This is another pair who need to look after old legs.

The two main MD pairs Sonoda/Kamura and Endo/Watanabe are consistently excellent players who have to compete in a sector stuffed with Indonesian brilliance. I particularly like the fast and furious style of Sonoda/Kamura but that’s not enough to beat Marcus and Kevin. It’s possible either pair could get to a SF and then anything could happen, particularly if they can be more unpredictable with the pace they attack at.

Keigo Sonoda from BWF TV

China

Some say that China is not the dominant force it’s been in the past yet Chinese athletes are defending 3 titles at the All England this year. The strength is in the women’s sector; for now, the men are being eclipsed by the depth of other nation’s squads.

#1 Seeds and WD defending Champions CHEN Qingchen & JIA Yifan are aggressive, tough players. They are great at ratcheting up the pressure on their opponents: they can zero in on a victim with pitiless ferocity by using hard flat drives and fast smashes. Who can stop them winning? DU Yue & LI YinHui are seeded 6th but it’s hard to see them getting as far as the weekend.

There’s only one seeded pair in the MD: LI Junhui & LIU Yuchen – China used to be such a powerhouse but now the talented players in Indonesia and Japan dominate the rankings. Li & Liu are clever athletes; they can play a power game but they are also capable of varying the tempo and this can cause frustration for players like Sukamuljo. It can be a very smart tactic to break up the flow of the game against the Minions. It’s been pointed out that if Li/Liu run out of ideas they resort to a monotonous smashing game; that isn’t going to work in the big arena. Realistically I think they are going to struggle to get beyond QF.

Korea?

Korea’s WD players are experiencing a similar headache to their Japanese counterparts. As things stand there are still 4 pairs who could qualify for Tokyo. In Birmingham Lee So-Hee/Shin Seung-chang and Kim So-yeong/Kong Hee-yong are seeded 5 and 6 and look to be most likely to challenge. The drama over the past few weeks has been around the MD/XD player Seo Seung-jae who was suspended then not suspended by his national association (BKA) following confusion around sponsorship deals he had signed. It seemed disproportionate to punish his partners and destroy their hopes for this year so I’m glad he’s back in the mix.

Realistically I think we can only say that the WD teams have an outside chance of medals owing to the strength of the opposition. However, it’s interesting to observe that Korean badminton coaches enjoy plenty of success working away from home. I’ve already mentioned Park Joo-Bong and Japan, there is also Kang Kyung-jin who works with the Chinese squad plus Coach Kim who worked in India with PV Sindhu in the period she became World Champion.

Conclusions

China, Japan and Indonesia look set to see off opposition from the other nations for the doubles crowns. I adore following doubles; the tactics, tempo and talent mean that for fans the spectacle is second-to-none. The spine-tingling experience of watching the spotlit pairs as they play for glory at the All England is a joy. Ahsan & Setiawan had a fantastic 2019 and it would be wonderful to see them defend their title. As the tournament progresses, the tension will rise, legs will tire and towards the end it’s mental strength and an athletes appetite for the fight that gets them to the podium. May the best team win!


My preview of the WS part of the tournament is here https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/03/03/yonex-all-england-2020-pt1/

If you enjoyed this then take a look at my article about Polii and Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/01/19/greysap-redux-polii-rahayu-are-back/ and this one about Kevin & Marcus https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/29/the-minions-indonesian-superheroes/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Has Indonesian Badminton Stagnated?

By Shubhi Rofiddinsa (Podcast Tepak Bulu)

After a disappointing semi-final exit against Japan in this years Sudirman Cup – losing 3-1 – many fans and experts heavily criticised the 20-player squad and questioned if they would ever repeat the win of 1989 and bring the cup home again. The fact that Indonesia hasn’t won any major team-tournament events since the 2002 Thomas Cup and 1996 Uber Cup makes the loss hurt a little more. Many regarded the Singles players contribution as disappointing as the team relied solely on doubles to rake up points.

Sudirman Cup 2019 team. Picture from Badminton Indonesia IG

The biggest question of them all is: has Indonesian badminton become stagnant recently? To answer that, let’s take a look at each disciplines’ progress so far this year before we set our eyes on the upcoming Indonesian Open 2019 in a few days.

Men’s Doubles

Who can Indonesian fans rely on to win games or tournaments? It’s always men’s doubles. The Minions – otherwise known as Marcus Fernaldi Gideon & Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo – are instantly recognised everywhere. They won all their matches in this year’s Sudirman Cup and their stature rises after each tournament.

Embed from Getty Images

The combination of attractive playing style and off-court demeanour add to the entertainment value of the game itself, making it more interesting to watch. Although the world number ones haven’t won as many titles as they did last year, their game is evolving: they are playing less explosively and being more patient in attack.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan are back on top again after their split in 2017 and have had a great first-half of the year so far: getting to four finals and winning two of them, All England and New Zealand Open .

Recovering from a game down Ahsan/Setiawan powered their way to the All England title.
Video courtesy BWF

Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto is also a pair to watch this year winning the Swiss Open and silver at the Asian Games.


Women’s Doubles

from bwf tv

Another discipline that can be counted on when it comes to consistent success in every tournament is Women’s Doubles. Nevertheless Greysia Polii/Apriyani Rahayu is the only Indonesian pair in the top 10 with no-one obvious waiting in the wings to join them there. They won all their matches in the Sudirman Cup until eventually succumbing to the Japanese powerhouse Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara – the world number ones – in the semi final.

Polii will be 32 years old this year and questions have popped up about her successors. Names that have been mentioned are Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istarani, Rizki Amelia Pradipta, Della Destiara Harris, Agatha Imanuela and Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti. Indonesia’s head coach for women’s doubles, Eng Hian, said

“Maybe after the Olympic Games. 2021 maybe, finishing her contract with the sponsors first. After that, she might have thought about her next step (on what she wants to do). Be it a professional player or else”

This is a tricky area to regenerate. Finding a pair as successful as Polii/Rahayu, Polii/Maheswari or even Natsir/Marissa will be tough. It is the only sector that has not won an Olympic gold medal since Badminton’s inception in the games back in Barcelona 1992.


Mixed Doubles

The search continues for the ‘next’ Liliyana Natsir – one of the greatest of all time – after she retired from the badminton world earlier this year. Suprisingly, not many pairs from juniors are now competing at elite level. Although there has been good progress so far – by creating a competitive environment between the four main pairs – they always come up short in their finals.

Embed from Getty Images

Praveen Jordan/Melati Daeva Oktavianti have lost three finals so far this year: one in India, one in New Zealand, and another in Australia. The match that fans will always remember though is the semi final heartbreak at this year’s All England against the superior Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong where they led 20-17 in the second set after winning the first one and ended up losing the match.

Meanwhile, Hafiz Faizal/Gloria Emmanuelle Widjaja haven’t been in top form. They lost their match against Denmark in the Sudirman Cup, they got to the final of the German Open but lost that too and are generally struggling to make much headway beyond quarter & semi finals. The newest pair – Tontowi Ahmad/Winny Oktavina Kandow have so far made good progress by contesting five quarter finals in six months. Ahmad is expected to be a good mentor for the 20-year-old youngster and the pair is fighting for the Olympic Games spot.

The 2017 World Junior Championship winners, Rinov Rivaldy/Pitha Haningtyas, seek to rise to the occasion as the elite pair for Indonesia in the coming years. Although they must be carefully observed and developed by their coaches if we want to see more of them in the future.


Men’s Singles

This is where it gets tricky because performances fluctuate. 2016 was the first time Indonesia could pin their hopes onto three youngsters to represent the nation.

Embed from Getty Images

Antony Sinisuka Ginting, Jonatan Christie and Ihsan Maulana Mustofa were in the Thomas Cup squad that year and the team finished runners-up after defeat by Denmark, the first European country to win the prestigious trophy. The first two players mentioned above have won three titles each and their form continues to improve with next year’s Olympics on the horizon. It seems that Ginting and Christie are the only players Indonesia can rely on to win titles but they often run up against the relentless Momota and don’t yet seem to have worked out how to beat him.

It’s going to be interesting to see how far Indonesia advances in the Thomas Cup next year.


Women’s Singles

No Superseries titles have been won by Indonesian women since its inception in 2009. Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Fitriani frequently underachieve, although Fitriani did win the Thailand Masters back in January. It’s a realistic possibility that only one player will qualify for Tokyo 2020. Women’s Singles still has a lot of catching up to do to improve their competitiveness and succeed at the highest level. This is thrown into relief by the recent success of the South Korean player AN Se Young – if she has been coached to take on and beat the established top 20 players then why not the Indonesian women?

Re-live Fitriani’s maiden title in 2019 at Thailand Masters.
Video courtesy BWF

If this all seems rather folorn there is some positive news. With his success at producing great players like Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, Reony Mainaky’s return home from Japan after his eight-year stint as a coach for their national team, will restore the public’s faith in the ambition of this team.


Conclusion

Men’s doubles will be the front-runner to grab the Gold medal in this year’s world championships in Basel, and also at the Olympics next year. Meanwhile other players performances can lack consistently good results.

In the end, Indonesia remains as one of the powerhouses in World Badminton; but languishing in the top five is not good enough for a nation with such a successful past and a fan base with the highest hopes. The stagnation can actually be seen from the over-dependency on certain disciplnes, especially doubles and this obviously hinders the ambition to win team championship titles.

Reony Mainaky’s return is a sign of intent but this is a mark of work in progress not ‘job done’. For these players to fulfil everyone’s expectations and realise their immense potential there needs to be a new approach that refuses to accept that what they are achieving on the world stage at the moment is the maximum possible rather it’s the start of something wonderful.


The author of this article – Shubhi Rofiddinsa – also broadcasts about badminton as the wonderful Podcast Tepak Bulu. Here’s a link to one of his episodes where he talks with Badminton Becky https://t.co/9YlAzrVhey?amp=1

You may also enjoy this piece about two of my favourite players: Polii & Rahayu https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/12/a-thriving-partnership-indonesias-polii-and-rahayu/

And this piece about Liliyana Natsir written by Dev Sukumar on the BWF website https://bwfworldchampionships.bwfbadminton.com/news-single/2019/08/08/winny-will-need-support-liliyana-natsir/