For the first time in the 28-year long history of the Sudirman Cup badminton mixed team championship, the founding country of the event and former champions Indonesia will be missing from the quarter-final line-up of the elite Group 1.
At the end of four days of intense scrapping at the Carrara Club on Australia’s picturesque Gold Coast, near Brisbane, four of the dozen nations that had started the round-robin stage of the week-long competition were duly eliminated, leaving eight to contest the knock-out quarter-finals.
The Cup itself, instituted in 1989 in memory of former Indonesian international Dick Sudirman, who founded his country’s badminton association, PBSI, will be vied for over the next four days by seven of the world’s top eight-ranked badminton nations aside from upstarts India, who crashed the party by ending up second in Group 1D, behind Denmark but ahead of Indonesia.
This seismic upheaval in the world of the shuttle sport took place on Wednesday despite a magnificent, bitterly fought 3-2 victory by the Indonesians over the Danes in a tie in which four of the five matches went the full distance and stretched past the hour mark each, with the closest encounter being decided over the extra points in the third and final game.
All three teams — second seeded Denmark, No 5 seeds Indonesia and ninth-ranked India — in that 'Group of Death' ended their pool engagements with one victory and one defeat each. Denmark, by virtue of their 4-1 win over India and 2-3 loss to Indonesia, finished with a 6-4 win-loss record. The Indians’ 4-1 win over the Indonesians helped them to a 5-5 net score, thus thrusting Indonesia into the cellar with a 4-6 record.
Denmark, secure in the knowledge that they had to win just two of the five matches against Indonesia in order to top the group, were surprisingly flat and listless, the solitary exception being the men’s doubles combination of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, who scrapped on the courts of the Carrara Club as if their very lives depended on the outcome.
Indonesia, badly stung by their 1-4 reverse at India’s hands on Tuesday, overhauled their line-up, with the bold move reaping the dividends. The aging Tontowi Ahmad, without his regular partner Lilyana Natsir, was benched; and the bubbling young combination of Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto was fielded. They turned up trumps, decimating the challenge of Joachim Fischer-Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen with a 21-12, 21-13 verdict.
Then came the star turn for Indonesia. The bustling dynamo, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, was given his head over Jonatan Christie, who had been beaten by India’s Kidambi Srikanth the previous day, even as Tommy Sugiarto continued to warm the bench.
Ginting took in stride the loss of the opening game against the towering Viktor Axelsen, nearly a foot taller than the diminutive Indonesian, and turned the tables on his redoubtable adversary, to record a fabulous 13-21, 21-17, 21-14 triumph. The win was all the more creditable in view of the rich form that Axelsen had shown against Indian Ajay Jayaram the previous day.
With two matches under their belt, the Indonesians became raging hot favourites to wrap up the tie by the third match itself, when the world’s top men’s doubles pair of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo was pitted against the 36-year-old Boe and 33-year-old Mogensen, ranked only a spot behind them.
The youthful Gideon and Sukamuljo had bagged a hat-trick of Super Series titles only a few weeks back, including the All England and Malaysian Super Series Premier crowns, and had looked well-nigh unbeatable while administering knockout punches to the top pairs of every other country. But they reckoned without the pressure of playing for their country; and, despite holding a match-point each in the second and third games, went down to the Danish veterans at 21-16, 22-24, 21-23.
The women’s singles, which came next, pitted the 19-year-old Mia Blichfeldt, ranked 45th in the world, against 18-year-old Fitriani Fitriani, ranked 23rd on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) ladder. The Indonesian teenager had played reasonably well in the second game of her clash the previous day with the powerful PV Sindhu, but her opponent was a totally unknown quantity, preferred as she was by her country’s badminton bosses over the more experienced Line Kjaersfeldt.
It was anybody’s match, as Blichfeldt frittered away a massive 17-8 lead in the opening stanza, to allow Fitriani to get back on level terms, but kept her nose ahead in the extra points duel. The Indonesian, however, upped the ante in the next two games, and her dogged determination gained her the day for a 22-24, 21-15, 21-14 triumph.
Fitriani’s win gave Indonesia the tie against Denmark 3-1, but did not ensure qualification to the next stage. For that, the fifth seeds had to win the final clash, the women’s doubles that featured the world’s No 2-ranked combination for the opposition, Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter-Juhl.
Indonesia might still have made a match of it, if Greysia Polii had had her regular partner, Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, by her side. But injury to Maheswari meant that Polii had to make do with the teenaged Apriani Rahayu, who had only practised with her new partner for less than a month after it had become apparent that the injured Maheswari would not recover in time for the Sudirman Cup games.
In the event, Rahayu gave a sterling account of herself, giving her senior partner fine support against European champions, Pedersen and Rytter-Juhl. Danish brows in the audience became increasingly creased as the Indonesians fought back brilliantly after the loss of the opening stanza, to bag the second with a degree of comfort. It was only the vast experience and poise of the Danes that allowed them to take the match at 21-18, 13-21, 21-13; and ensure that Denmark ended group toppers, ahead of India in second place, and erstwhile champions Indonesia in the cellar.
The Indians’ historic maiden entry into the last eight is likely to be tinged with some trepidation and regret that the luck of the draw pitted them against the powerful top seeds and defending champions China, who have taken the trophy home on ten occasions in the past. The other quarter-final in the top half of the draw will be fought between Japan and Malaysia.
In the lower half, it will be Denmark versus Thailand, and Korea against Chinese Taipei, with these two matters due to be argued over on Thursday evening. The winners of these two ties slated to clash with each other in the play-off semi-finals. The India-China and Japan-Malaysia quarter-finals will be played on adjoining courts on Friday at 12 noon, Australian East Coast time (6.30 am, IST).
Updated Date: May 25, 2017 12:59:00 IST