Jakarta. He may be ranked 63rd in the world, but in Jonatan Christie’s mind, he can already go the distance against the cream of the badminton crop.
“I dreamt of winning a match in straight games against Jan O. [Jorgensen, the world number three] and winning in three games against Chen Long [number one],” says the 17-year-old Indonesian. “They felt so real. I think it’s because I’m so obsessed with taking part in the event.”
The event in question is the Sudirman Cup, the world team championship of badminton, which runs from May 10 to 17 in Dongguan, China, and where Jonatan will make his debut at the head of a young and untested Indonesian men’s singles side.
“I feel a bit nervous. But I’ll keep in mind what veteran Christian Hadinata said: that your teammates may lose their matches, but not you,” Jonatan says.
His dream of taking on the Dane Jorgensen could come to pass, with Indonesia drawn in the same group as Denmark and England, but the result may not be as momentous as he hopes.
The Indonesian team has in recent years relied heavily on its more successful doubles teams to win the crucial points needed to advance in the Sudirman Cup, and with officials refusing to take higher-ranked singles players into the men’s sides, the singles team this year is widely seen as simply going along for the experience.
That calculus doesn’t seem to faze Jonatan or teammate Firman Abdul Kholik, both of whom will be competing in their first ever senior team event.
“I’m still a junior and I’ve never had a chance to play in a team event,” says Firman, 17, who is ranked 72nd.
“But now I’m one of the Sudirman Cup team members. Hard to believe and it feels like a dream, but I’ll take it as a challenge in my career as a shuttler. I’ll carry the responsibility and show people that I’m a future star by playing at my best.”
The third member of the men’s singles squad is 86th-ranked Ihsan Maulana Mustofa. Indonesia has four higher-ranked players — all in the top 40 — but the country’s badminton association, the PBSI, has chosen not to go with them because two — Tommy Sugiarto (ranked 11th) and Simon Santoso (39) — have opted out of the national training camp, and the other two, Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka (21) and Andre Kurniawan Tedjono (38), are contracted with professional clubs.
Firman says the departure of the seniors from the national scene has opened an opportunity for young shuttlers to step up for the country.
“It’s good to know that we’re now leading the men’s singles side at the national training camp, but we lack good sparring partners because the seniors have left,” he says.
“Personally, I’ll use [the Sudirman Cup] to gain more international experience.”
Indonesia’s women’s singles players for the Sudirman Cup are Lindaweni Fanetri, Bellaetrix Manuputty and Hanna Ramadini.
Former world champions Liliyana Natsir and Tontowi Ahmad will lead the mixed doubles charge, which also features Debby Susanto and Praveen Jordan.
The women’s doubles team will be led by 2014 Asian Games champions Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, while Anggia Shitta Awanda will pair up with Della Destiara Haris after her regular partner, Rosyita Eka Putri Sari, was left out of the side to recover from a knee injury.
Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan, another pair of former world champions, will spearhead the men’s doubles campaign, backed up by Gideon Markus Fernaldi/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Angga Pratama/Ricky Karanda Suwardi.
The squad was put through its paces at an exhibition tournament in Jakarta on Saturday, where Jonatan eked out a narrow win over Firman, Gideon and Kevin easily bested Angga and Ricky, and Anggia and Della fought from a game down to beat Greysia and Nitya.
Rexy Mainaky, the PBSI’s head of athlete development, said the exhibition highlighted some problems that needed work ahead of the Sudirman Cup next week, but added that overall he was pleased with the performance.