Sunday, May 22, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
History was made in Kunshan today, with Denmark claiming the Thomas Cup for the first time ever.
Denmark’s victory – Europe’s first – came after the Scandinavian country had fallen short in the final eight times since the Thomas Cup started in 1948-49.
Denmark rode on the strength of their singles. There were no surprises in the final, with Indonesia’s two doubles pairs proving their superiority, and Denmark’s three singles players capitalising on their experience and composure. Somewhat fittingly, it was left to Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, who has spent most of his career in the shade of better-known compatriots, to deliver the winning point against Ihsan Maulana Mustofa.
“Of course it’s a big honour to play the last match,” said Vittinghus, who won all of his crucial matches during the week. “Last week I was dreaming about being the deciding factor. I’m extremely happy and proud that I went in and did it. I played one heck of a match. To do that at 2-2 is a wonderful feeling.”
The tie had promised to be a close affair with Tommy Sugiarto holding Danish spearhead Viktor Axelsen to a keen contest. The Indonesian sought to play on Axelsen’s patience, winning a point nearly every time he engaged him in a long rally.
At 14-10 and 18-15 in the second, Sugiarto did have the window to take it to a third game, but inexplicably started to rush the points and played right into Axelsen’s hands. The Dane shot past, taking six points in a row (21-17 21-18), and set Denmark on course.
“I was nervous in the beginning, but managed to stay calm. Usually I get too excited and make mistakes, but today I was calm throughout the match,” said Axelsen.
Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan brought Indonesia back into the contest against Mads Pieler Kolding/Mads Conrad-Petersen. Setiawan and Ahsan stuck to what they do best: mastery of the net and the early exchanges, allowing their opponents no room to break free. Kolding and Conrad-Petersen had it going their way to begin win, but once the Indonesians caught up late in the first game, there was only one way the match was headed. The Indonesians spun a sticky web that the Danes got completely tangled in. Such was their frustration that they started making errors on the first or second shot, and came away upset with themselves for not having taken advantage of the slight opening they had worked out in the opening game. Indonesia were 1-1 with the 21-18 21-13 victory.
“We should’ve won the first game,” said Kolding. “They were shaky in the beginning, but we gave them a chance. We just went all in but they were better than us in the service situations.”
“They key was that we were very calm,” said Ahsan. “We just executed the strategy we’d worked out with the coach. That we went in after losing the first singles did not matter, we were focussed only on our match.”
Indonesia had entrusted Anthony Ginting for the second singles against Jan O Jorgensen. Ginting, who turned 20 a few days ago, looked completely out of Jorgensen’s league. Delivering sharp winners at times, and at others too inconsistent at the net, Ginting looked too intimidated to shake Jorgensen (21-17 21-12). Denmark was 2-1 up without trouble.
Indonesia’s doubles rescued them once again – Angga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi winning a cat-and-mouse game over Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Sorensen, 21-16 21-14.
The final match was between the vast experience of Vittinghus and the youthful Ihsan Maulana Mustofa. Vittinghus had stepped in earlier in the week, winning his quarter-final against Japan and the semi-final against Malaysia. It was the biggest moment of his career, and he didn’t let go.
Mustofa, like Ginting, was like a deer caught in the headlights. Completely overawed by the occasion and his opponent’s rock-solid play, Mustofa barely did a thing right all match. His smashes missed their mark and his netplay was anything but precise. Long before the final point was won, Vittinghus had the match sewn up for Denmark. The final point in the 21-15 21-7 mismatch soon led to delirious scenes from the small Danish contingent, with even battle-hardened veterans like Mathias Boe and Jorgensen in tears.
“We’re very proud,” said Denmark Head Coach Lars Uhre. “It’s a bit unreal. We had a lot of problems before and during the tournament with injuries. We changed the team a lot of times. All of our ten team members delivered.”
For Denmark, it is time to celebrate.