Dividend paid: Indonesian badminton head coach Christian Hadinata beams as he receives a stack of dollar bills as a bonus for the team’s gold medal-performance Sunday. The players celebrate on the podium. JP/Arief Suhardiman
The vying for badminton supremacy between Indonesia and Malaysia at the SEA Games began with a balanced result on Sunday.
Indonesia won the men’s team gold before the opponents made amends with the women’s team at the National Sports Complex in Vientiane later in the day
The victories were decided in the fourth rubber on each occasion.
Indonesia’s option of the scratch pairing of Nova Widianto and Mohammad Ahsan proved to work as the pair sealed the team’s 3-1 victory in the men’s team final with a 21-18 21-17 win over M. Fairuzizuan and M. Zakry Abd. Latif.
“We decided to pair Nova with Ahsan only last night. We are delighted with this win as we rated their chance of beating the Malaysian top seeds at 50:50,” team official Jacob Rusdianto said.
Nova is a mixed doubles specialist with Liliyana Natsir while Ahsan, ten years younger than Nova, has a regular partner, Bona Septano.
The strategy was applied based on the record that Ahsan and Bona had never won any of their matches against the Malaysian pair. A nontechnical assessment was also part of the strategy.
“We were counting on Nova’s great reputation to undermine the Malaysian pair’s mentality. The strategy proved to work,” said men's doubles coach Sigit Pamungkas.
Nova’s mixed doubles ranking with Liliyana is currently the world’s number two. They won the silver at the 2008 Olympics.
“We needed players with a strong mentality for the final match. Nova was the right person,” Sigit said.
It was a daunting moment for the Indonesian team when Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan lost their battle against the world’s top pair Koo Kien Kiat and Tan Boon Heong, 21-19, 20-22, 10-21 as the Malaysian team evened the score to 1-1.
Sony Dwi Kuncoro had put in a jittery performance against Muhammad Hafiz to win 22-20, 14-21, 21-12 for a 1-0 lead.
Simon Santoso retrieved the lead, thumping Kuan Beng Hong 21-18, 21-13 before Nova inspired his teammate for the decider.
“Indeed, we failed to recognise that there would be this [Nova] effect. But our pair was also losing focus in the game as they were too cautious about how not to lose, point by point,” Malaysian team coach Rexy Mainaky, a former Indonesian star, said. In the women's final, Sunday afternoon, Malaysia redeemed its defeat with the same score.
Indonesia’s first singles player Adriyanti Firdasari made mistakes to finally lose 18-21,17-21 to Wong Mei Chow.
The first doubles pair Shendy Puspa Irawati and Meiliana Jauhari followed Firda’s fate as they lost 17-21, 13-21 to the world’s number five pair Wong Pei Tty and Chin Eei Hui.
In the third match, Maria Kristin Yulianti put Indonesia back in the game with a crushing 21-8-21-9 win over Lydia Cheah, before Malaysia sealed their victory through Ng Hui Lin and Woon Khe We.
They were extended to three games in defeating Greysia Polii and Liliyana Natsir 22-20, 12-21, 18-21.
Indonesia’s gamble had not worked this time.
“With Malaysia being favored to win, we decided to gamble by pairing Greysia with mixed doubles specialist Liliyana. We had expected to steal a point from this new pairing. However, the Malaysian doubles pair proved to be stronger,” Jacob said.
Two years ago, Indonesian shuttlers swept all seven gold medals on offer.