Indonesia’s performances at the Thomas Cup in the 1990s and early 2000s was one of the standout eras in badminton history. The Indonesians, having tasted defeat narrowly in the 1992 final to Malaysia, rebounded by beating the Malaysians at the next edition, and subsequently went on to win four successive titles.
Men’s doubles legend Rexy Mainaky, who was with four of those five Thomas Cup-winning teams, casts his mind back to his debut Thomas Cup in 1992, and through to his most emotional victory six years later.
A Well-Rounded Unit
The main reason for Indonesia’s great performances those days was the strength in singles and doubles; our coaches were also world class. In singles we had players like Ardy (Wiranata), Alan (Budikusuma), Hariyanto Arbi, Joko (Suprianto) and many others; in 2002, for example, Hendrawan played third singles for us! Then in doubles we had so many good players, such as Rudy Gunawan, Eddy Hartono, Bambang Suprianto, Ricky (Subagja), Candra Wijaya, Sigit Budiarto, and others.
Close Loss in Kuala Lumpur, 1992
We knew Malaysia were a strong team. China also were strong, but even they weren’t comfortable against Malaysia.
Those days, Malaysians were fanatical about badminton. Stadium Negara was massive, yet it used to be packed, there wasn’t any empty seat, especially when Malaysia played Indonesia in the final.
For me, it was the first time in the Thomas Cup. I had joined the national team in 1990, so it was less than two years. I played without feeling pressure, as I had nothing to lose.
A Foo Kong Keong Special
We knew that in Kuala Lumpur, especially in Stadium Negara, nobody could beat Rashid Sidek. Ardy (Wiranata, first singles) had a very slim chance to get a point against him, but Alan (Budikusuma, second singles) always beat Foo Kok Keong. If it went to the fifth match, we knew Joko was favourite against Kwan Yoke Meng.
After Ardy lost to Rashid, Rudy Gunawan and Eddy Hartono got us level after they won the first doubles against Razif and Jalani. Alan was favourite against Foo Kok Keong, but on that day, Kok Keong played out of this world and upset Alan.
Ricky and I had always lost to Cheah Soon Kit and Soo Beng Kiang. It was a close match, but we lost. It was disappointing, but Malaysia those days was very tough, so I cannot say we were deeply hurt.
Triumph in Jakarta, 1994
We were playing in Jakarta and we beat Malaysia in the final. We won the first three matches, so Ricky and I could not play the fourth match.
For sure it was an amazing atmosphere. We were out of this world, because I had always watched Rudy (Hartono) or Liem Swie King lift the Thomas Cup, and this time I lifted the cup. I cannot describe the feeling.
Difficult Circumstances, Hong Kong 1998
Indonesia won five Thomas Cup titles in a row, and I was with four of those teams. But the most emotional of those was in 1998, when we won the title in Hong Kong.
It wasn’t just about what happened on court. During that month in May, there was a lot of unrest in Indonesia. All the students in universities were protesting against the government, they wanted President Soeharto to step down.
There was some violence and naturally, all of us in the team were anxious. In fact, my wife was pregnant with our second child. We’d almost decided to not play the Thomas Cup final.
However, our chef-de-mission, Agus Wirahadikusuma, who held a senior position in the army, convinced us that we had to show to the world that Indonesia is a strong country. He assured us that our families would be safe. He took all our addresses and directed his men back home, in plainclothes, to provide security for our families.
‘We Fought Like Hell’
Once he did that, we were all at peace and stopped worrying. We all fought like hell. We wanted to show to the crowd and to the world that that Indonesia is a strong country, with a strong mentality, despite what the country was going through.
It was emotional for all of us. When we went to podium to receive the trophy, we wrapped the flag around us and we sang the anthem out loud, and we were all crying.
When we’d left Jakarta for Hong Kong, we’d actually been invited to the Presidential office by Soeharto; when we returned a couple of weeks later, BJ Habibie was president.
The situation in Indonesia had calmed down. Everyone in Indonesia was behind us and we all felt like one. When we went back, we went around the city, and everybody was cheering for us.