SEA Games 2015: The next generation rises

SEA Games 2015: The next generation rises
The triumphant Indonesian badminton players rush onto the court after the deciding third singles match last night.

When Indonesia were crowned badminton men's team champions the last time the team event was contested, at the 2011 SEA Games, star names filled the side.

Players who, in fact, could easily be recognised just by a partial mention of their names. Santoso. Sugiarto. Setiawan.

In comparison, the team that made a remarkable comeback last night at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, when they were just a game away from being second best, are made up of relative unknowns.

In retaining the team title for the fourth consecutive time, the Indonesian team have announced their readiness to be the pillars of the badminton superpower's next generation of players.

Doubles player Gideon Markus Fernaldi, who partnered Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo in the fourth match of the tie to beat Thailand's Pakkawat Vilailak and Wannawat Ampunsuwan (21-19, 18-21, 21-14) and force a rubber, said there is belief within the team despite youth and inexperience.

Said the 24-year-old: "We just rely on being confident even before we came for the SEA Games. We believe we can be the next batch of shuttlers for Indonesia."

Added Sukamuljo: "There is definitely pressure on us but... you just got to focus on being confident."

Cheered on by a crowd of almost 5,000 largely backing the defending champions, chanting "In-do-nesia, In-do-nesia!", Ihsan Maulana Mustofa - playing the deciding singles match - was given a shot in the arm.

The 19-year-old showed his mettle, coming back to beat Suppanyu Avihingsanon 20-22, 21-16, 21-9.

The Thais had won the two other singles matches, with world No. 22 Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk beating Jonatan Christie 21-17, 21-19. Veteran Boonsak Ponsana posted a straightforward victory over Firman Abdul Kholik, winning 21-7, 21-14.

First doubles pair Bodin Issara and Nitpitphon Puangpuapech lost their match against Ricky Karanda Suwardi and Angga Pratama 15-21, 13-21.

Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic men's singles champion here as the Indonesian contingent's chef de mission, witnessed what he hopes will be the birth of a new generation.

He said: "It's good for the future. Hopefully these players will get more chances to play on the international circuit."

In the women's event, backed by world No. 5 and 2013 world champion Ratchanok Intanon, the Thais retained their title in a 3-0 rout of Malaysia.

Four-time All-England champion Morten Frost, who now serves as the Badminton Association of Malaysia's technical director, said the Thai women's team are a force to be reckoned with.

Besides Ratchanok, who is still only 20, the Thai side boast three other players ranked in the world top 40 - No. 18 Busanan Ongbumrungpan, 19, and 24-year-olds Porntip Buranaprasertsuk (No. 26) and Nichaon Jindapon (No. 36).

Speaking about the team's overall strength, Frost said: "(Their) base is getting so much better. It's the good hard work that they do in Thailand that's creating many good players now.

This article was first published on June 13, 2015.
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