Wednesday, August 17, 2016
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
The ghosts that haunted Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir from August last year were finally buried at Riocentro Pavilion-4 when they became the new Olympic champions in Mixed Doubles.
A year ago, the Indonesian duo searched for words as they sought to explain their inexplicable meltdown in the semi-finals of the TOTAL BWF World Championships on home turf. The shattering loss after holding two match points was followed by a string of mediocre results, including a second round loss at the BCA Indonesia Open to a scratch Danish combination that included a Women’s Singles specialist.
Today they put it all behind them with an immaculate display that gave opponents Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying no whiff of opportunity. With the 21-14 21-12 whitewash of their Malaysian opponents, Ahmad and Natsir gifted Indonesia its first-ever Olympic Mixed Doubles gold medal.
Having a solitary win in eight matches against the experienced Indonesians, Chan and Goh were underdogs going into the final. Whatever hopes they might have entertained of an upset were quickly put to the sword by their rampant opponents. Chan barely got an opportunity to use his smash as Natsir was all over the net and kept forcing the lift from the Malaysians, enabling Ahmad to pick points like cherries off a tree. To make things worse for Malaysia, Chan’s chronic problems while serving returned – the low serve was quickly put away; the flicked serve either faulted or smashed down. Natsir got the shuttle to die off the tape and the Indonesians had the first game in 21 minutes.
Malaysia were under the gun early in the second with Ahmad running riot. To their credit, they finally stitched together a good passage of play, getting to 10-12. Chan, unable to serve low, tried flicking Ahmad and it was promptly smashed down. From then it was one-way traffic once again, with Chan and Goh unable to wriggle free of the fence they were trapped in. On the 45th minute came the winner for the Indonesians, and with it, the completion of the resume for Ahmad and Natsir – an Olympic title to go with the World title.
“I’m speechless,” Ahmad said. “This is a gift from us for Indonesia’s Independence Day.”
Natsir was more expressive: “Even though I have so much experience, I was so stressed early in the match today. We were able to execute out plans well and that’s how we won. We had a bad season but that was because we were thinking only of the Olympics. Of course the loss in the World Championships hurt us, and we felt down for much of last year. When we lost in the early rounds of the Superseries in Indonesia and Australia I consoled myself, telling myself that it was okay, and we kept our focus on the Olympics.”
Their beaten opponents were all smiles despite the loss.
“We do have regrets at losing, of course, but we did our best today,” said Chan. His partner hoped their result would lead to more interest in the discipline back home, since “Mixed Doubles doesn’t get much attention in Malaysia… I hope it will get some attention now.”
Top seeds and London 2012 champions Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, who won the bronze medal beating compatriots Xu Chen and Ma Jin yesterday, were philosophical about their semi-final loss.
“We were the top seeds and favourites, but there will be ups and downs in one’s life. There are no guarantees. We did our best, there’s no disappointment at all,” said Zhao.
Asked if the bronze medal match was her last international contest, Zhao was non-committal: “I’m not sure I’m retiring. It might be my last match as a professional. But I’m not sure I’m done yet. First, I would like to get some rest.”