By Irawaty Wardany
The year 2014 turned against Indonesia’s badminton expectations as the country’s shuttlers missed out on their shots at prestigious titles, partly because of injuries sustained by top players.
With major tournaments on the play roster, including the Thomas and Uber Cups, All England, Asian Games and World Championships, the Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) was optimistic about emulating the 2013 achievement during which the country secured 11 trophies in the Super Series tournament and two world championship titles.
The year started off with promising results at the All England tournament in March, where Indonesian shuttlers brought home two of the five titles at stake, thanks to the forefront shuttlers Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan — who ended Indonesia’s 11-year wait for a men’s doubles All England Super Series Premier title — and Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, who defended their mixed doubles title for the third time.
The successful showing at the world’s oldest badminton championship, which in recent times has become rare amidst China’s domination, gave the nation relief as well as optimism about achieving positive results at the Thomas Cup, the men’s team competition and women’s version of the Uber Cup that followed in May.
Around three weeks prior to the competitions, the PBSI made a special preparation for its squad in Bogor, West Java, in order to solidify the team and enhance the chances at the badminton team championships Indonesia last won more than a decade back.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the titles remained elusive. Instead, it was Japan that resurged in the world championships to win its first Thomas Cup by defeating Malaysia in the final managed to stop Chinese hegemony.
In the Uber Cup, China proved its unchallenged prowess, beating Japan in the final for its 13th title.
The remaining period of the year later saw ups and downs for Indonesian badminton. Two world champion titles slipped through the fingers of both defending champion duos, Hendra and Ahsan, and Tontowi and Liliyana, who had to withdraw from defending their titles because of injuries sustained by Ahsan and Tontowi.
At the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in September, Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari went down in the history as Indonesia won gold in the women’s doubles event for the first time after 36 years, spawning hopes for the rise of the country’s women shuttlers.
However, they failed to carry on with their fit performance at the BWF Super Series Finals 2014 in Dubai. They had to retire in the opening match because of Nitya’s injury. Injury was also blamed for Ahsan and Hendra’s early exit. To add to the woes, mixed double pair Tontowi and Liliyana also had to pack up and go home early.
The poor showing at the season’s closing tournament capped Indonesia’s failure to match other world powers, especially China, but the badminton authority tried to raise hopes for next year’s challenge, saying that young shuttlers had been showing promising performances.
“Overall the achievements of our top-tier players have yet to satisfy us. We did reach our target at the All England and Asian Games [with two golds]. However, we missed our target at the Thomas Cup, World Championships and BWF Super Series Finals. Fortunately we see some improvements in our third-tier players,” the PBSI’s national training camp head Ricky Soebagdja told journalists in his review.
“The men’s singles and men’s doubles players [of the third-tier level] have stepped up their games, but not in the female sectors [women’s singles and women’s double],” he added.
Among those rising third-tier players are Kevin Sanjaya Sukomuljo and Selvanus Geh (men’s doubles), as well as Alfian Eko Prasetya and Annisa Saufika (mixed doubles), who won the Vietnam International Challenge in March.
Home players were swept aside at the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier in June, but Kevin was lauded for his performance with his mixed doubles partner, veteran player Greysia Polii, as they upset the world number one duo Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei in the first round of the tournament.
In April, he paired with Geh to win the New Zealand Grand Prix championships when Alfian and Annisa also triumphed as the Indonesian squad won two trophies.
The PBSI is also harboring high hopes for Edi Subaktiar, Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja and Rosyita Eka Putri Sari. The latter was a nominee of the 2014 Most Promising Player of the Year Award by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), along with Chen Qingchen, He Bingjiao and Lin Gui Pu of China and Akane Yamaguchi of Japan.
Rosyita brought home two silver medals from the women’s doubles event with partner Apriani Rahayu and the mixed doubles event with partner Muhammad Rian Ardianto from the World Junior Championships in April.
Firman Abdul Kholik, Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto are also expected to excel in future challenges. Fajar and Rian won the Indonesia International Challenge tournament, while Firman brought home a title from the Bahrain International Challenge tournament and became a runner-up at the Indonesia Grand Prix Gold championships.
“We admit that our elite team’s achievements have had ups and downs. However, development of our young players has shown progress. We’re still on the right track,” said the head of development and achievement, Rexy Mainaky.
Indonesia is looking to leave the disappointing year behind with the 2015 Sudirman Cup and 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics being their prime focuses.