Fajar/Rian's game is becoming increasingly mature with fewer mistakes. They have also developed confidence. They can be relied on to take up the responsibility as Indonesia’s spearheading pair.
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BIRMINGHAM, SUNDAY – The All England badminton championship at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham, the United Kingdom has served a bitter and sweet moment for Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto the last two years, but the pair won the world’s oldest badminton tournament this year after last year’s debacle.
Fajar and Rian’s march to the peak marked Indonesia's continued domination of the men's doubles event at All England. The Red and White squad has now secured 16 men's doubles titles since the championship was first held in 1899 and became an open tournament starting in 1980. Other strong countries in the event were left in the distance behind Indonesia, with South Korea winning 10 titles while China and Denmark six titles each.
The final match on Sunday (19/3/2023) underscored Indonesia's undisputed dominance with two pairs of fellow countrymen facing each other. Fajar/Rian defeated Hendra Setiawan/Mohammad Ahsan, who are their seniors, best friends as well as role model, 21-17, 21-14.
In the other final events, China won the men's singles and mixed doubles while South Korea brought home the women's singles and doubles titles.
Unfortunately, the duel between Fajar/Rian and Hendra/Ahsan was marred by an injury to Ahsan's left leg. He lost footing when being forced to retreat for a return while they were trailing 14-19 in the second game.
Injured, he limped his way back to the playing court. Despite the fact that Fajar/Rian needed only one last point to seal the title, he refused to abandon and instead finish his game simply to see their “little brothers” accomplish their impressive run for the deserved victory. When the two pairs shook hands over the net, Fajar was seen holding back his tears.
I’m grateful to become champion, but also sad because our senior is injured.
“I have a mixed feeling. I’m grateful to become champion, but also sad because our senior is injured. I hope Bang Ahsan's injury isn't too serious," he said. Together with Rian, he immediately approached Ahsan who was grimacing in pain. Both helped their senior walk to the prize-presentation podium.
The encounter between Fajar/Rian and Hendra/Ahsan, which lasted 34 minutes, was back-to-back all-Indonesia men's doubles final. Last year’s final also featured Hendra/Ahsan, who lost to Bagas Maulana/Muhammad Shohibul Fikri. In total, Indonesian men's doubles players have made 11 finals against each other at the All England.
Fajar/Rian became the 13th Red and White men's doubles pair to triumph. They followed in the footsteps of Hendra/Ahsan, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo/Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, Ricky Soebagdja/Rexy Mainaky in the 1990s as well as Ade Chandra/Christian Hadinata and Tjun Tjun/Johan Wahjudi in the 1970s.
As previously testified by Christian and several other men's doubles players, such as Bambang Supriyanto and Candra Wijaya, the birth of Indonesia’s world-level pairs has been inspired by predecessors in respective era. Young players look up to their seniors as role models.
There might be nothing [so enormous a training environment] like this elsewhere.
As in the case of Fajar/Rian, they admire Hendra/Ahsan, the three-time world champions and twice All England champions, and see them as role models. In their development, Hendra idolized Tony Gunawan, a two-time world champion and 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist with Candra Wijaya.
Fikri, who is among the young crops expected to be the next generation after Fajar/Rian, said he was lucky to have senior training partners of world class with proven achievements. “There might be nothing [so enormous a training environment] like this elsewhere," he said a week before the team’s departure to Birmingham.
The top podium prize appeared to be sweet-turning bitter experience for Fajar/Rian within a year of the All England tournament. The shock in early 2022 at the hands of Leo Rolly Carnando/Daniel Marthin, who are one of future national pairs, resulted in national men's doubles coach Herry Iman Pierngadi warning that they had yet to improve on their dismal performances thoughout 2021.
“I told [them] their play was being outweighed by the players below them. They had to have self-reflection and work harder," Herry said, recollecting his words of encouragement for the pair a year ago.
Following the All England 2022, Fajar/Rian proved their commitment to rise by winning the Swiss Open, part of the lower-tiered Super 300 series. Adding other three titles from seven other finals, Fajar/Rian topped the world rankings for the first time on 27 December, 2022. They started this year’s season triumphantly at the Malaysia Open Super 1000.
"Technically, Fajar/Rian's game is becoming increasingly mature with fewer mistakes. They have also developed confidence. They can be relied on to take up the responsibility as Indonesia’s spearheading pair," Herry said.