Return of the Giant
Those who followed the last few Superseries closely would not have missed out on a remarkable fact: Indonesia is rising once more.
The latest evidence of this came on Sunday, when the Indonesians returned home with three titles from the Singapore Superseries. Three titles from three finals. Just as important as what they won was the manner in which they lost too, in the days leading up to the finals.
Consider Indonesian Lindaweni Fanetri, who was No.62 in October last year but has shot up to No.13 last week. Fanetri is 24 years old, and has only now been showing glimpses of what she can accomplish. Until the early months of this year, she was competing at the level of the Grand Prix, and losing to second-rung players.
Something changed this year. Suddenly, the list of her victims included names like World Champion Wang Yihan and Saina Nehwal.
Take Tommy Sugiarto, who until last year was a second-rung player unlikely to challenge for the big prizes. On Sunday, we saw him winning the Singapore Open in his first Superseries final. His progression has been noteworthy – a player who struggled in the 20s of the world badminton rankings has shot up to No.13.
Or take the case of Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka, who upset No.4 Du Pengyu in the semis of the Indonesia Open; Yunus Alamsyah, who outlasted fifth seed Kenichi Tago in the first round; or the unheralded Belaetrix Manuputi, who pushed Li Xuerui to three games in the Singapore Open.
These are but a few examples. Nearly all the top Indonesians have been showing tremendous progress. The gold standard for measuring this is their performance against the Chinese: Sugiarto, for the first time, thrashed second seed Chen Long in the first round of the Indonesia Open – just a fortnight after two straight losses to the same player in the Sudirman Cup.
The doubles too has shown marked improvement. The new combination of Mohd Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan has played unbelievably well, winning the last two Superseries and destroying world-class opposition like Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng of China and Lee Yong Dae/Ko Sung Hyun on the way.
These results are no accident. Earlier this year, the Indonesian association (PBSI) announced a revamp of its coaching structure, seeking to get as many accomplished names on board as possible. For too long there was a big gap between the administration and the views of former greats. As part of the revamp, legends like Rexy Mainaky and Joko Suprianto were asked to join the effort. Mainaky, who had had a fruitful stint in Malaysia, and had just taken over the coaching programme of Philippines, left his assignment there and returned to his homeland.
At the Sudirman Cup (World Mixed Team Championships), the only team to challenge China was Indonesia in the quarterfinals. While China won its semi-finals and finals with identical 3-0 margins, it survived a brief scare against Indonesia, having to recover from 1-2 down to win 3-2.
A resurgent Indonesia can only mean great news for badminton. For the last decade China had overwhelmed all opposition, and had even appeared bored at times with its prowess. Indonesia was falling behind, and with the exit of its icons like Taufik Hidayat, and the total vacuum in women’s singles, there appeared no hope in sight. Hopefully, Indonesia’s revival will pass the test of time.