Indonesia had looked unconvincing in the early phase of their European sojourn, at the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup 2021 in Vantaa. Although they topped their group, they had struggled against both Canada and Denmark, needing to come from behind (1-2) in both ties. Their campaign didn’t last long after the group stage, for they ran aground against a relatively inexperienced Malaysian team in the quarterfinals.
With the aces in their pack – Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Jonatan Christie – appearing far from their best, Indonesia’s chances at the Thomas Cup didn’t look too bright.
Rhustavito to the Rescue
The Indonesians took their time to get going in Aarhus at the TotalEnergies BWF Thomas Cup. After a 5-0 result over Algeria, they were in danger of falling to Thailand – trailing 1-2 – before Fajar Alfian/Muhammad Rian Ardianto and Shesar Hiren Rhustavito performed the rescue act.
Rhustavito was once again their hero in the final group match against Chinese Taipei, when he won a thriller, 21-19 in the third, against Chi Yu Jen to help Indonesia top Group A.
It was against Malaysia in the quarterfinals that the team delivered as a unit. Ginting and Gideon/Sukamuljo avenged their Sudirman Cup losses (to Lee Zii Jia and Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik respectively), before Jonatan Christie outlasted Ng Tze Yong in a 75-minute marathon.
The semifinal spot was taken against hosts Denmark, widely reckoned to have the most complete team for the Thomas Cup. Led by Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, and with players of the class of Anders Antonsen, Rasmus Gemke, Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus, Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen and others in the squad, the Danes were a formidable outfit. Vittinghus, the fifth-match hero of their victorious 2016 campaign, was once again pencilled in at his favourite slot, this time against Rhustavito.
Axelsen, as expected, rushed through his opening rubber against Ginting; the Minions levelled for Indonesia. Antonsen was favourite over Christie given their recent form, but Christie was magnificent on the day, keeping great pace and showing steady hand and head in the match of the tournament, which lasted 100 minutes. Alfian/Ardianto wrapped up the tie for Indonesia to crush Denmark’s fond hopes of a title tilt on home soil.
In the other semifinal, China had knocked out Japan to set up the sixth Thomas Cup final between the two powerhouses.
For the final, Indonesia unveiled a most unexpected tactical move. Alfian/Ardianto were promoted to first doubles; the Minions were split, and Sukamuljo and young Daniel Marthin were slotted for the second doubles.
Indonesia’s strength was its regular doubles pairs, and the Minions had delivered in all three previous matches. How risky a move was it to promote Marthin – just out of his junior years – to the pressure cooker of a Thomas Cup final?
As it turned out, he wasn’t required. Indonesia closed it out in the first three matches.
Ginting was solid against Lu Guang Zu and Alfian/Ardianto outsmarted He Ji Ting/Zhou Hao Dong, leaving the stage for Christie to complete his third remarkable triumph.
The 24-year-old had played two marathon matches on the two previous days; in the final again he dialled it up, dragging Li Shi Feng into a torturous third game, in which the Chinese fell apart. If Rhustavito had played the pivotal part in Indonesia’s early campaign, Christie had stood tall to seal the deal at the end.
“The third game I said, let’s go, let’s play 100 minutes again,” said Christie. “I just motivated myself. My last match gave me confidence. I was ready for 120 minutes again.”
Nearly two decades after they’d last won it, the Thomas Cup was Indonesia’s once again.