World Champions look to defend before ‘most fantastic fans’

World Champions and home favourites look forward to an unforgettable experience, playing in the Total BWF World Championships in front of Jakarta’s legendary crowds. By Don Hearn, live in Jakarta.  […]

World Champions and home favourites look forward to an unforgettable experience, playing in the Total BWF in front of Jakarta’s legendary crowds.

By Don Hearn, live in Jakarta.  Photos: Yohan Nonotte for Badmintonphoto (live)

All five defending World Champions were on hand at Jakarta’s Sultan Hotel to answer questions from the press the day before play begins on the 2015 Total BWF World Championships.  Most pointed to the Indonesian crowds and their potential to motivate, to make winning difficult, and to make this year’s competition memorable.

Interestingly, three of the 2014 champions won their titles in the absence of the titleholders from 2013.  Two of those who were not on hand to defend last year – Tontowi Ahmad / Liliyana Natsir and Mohammad Ahsan / Hendra Setiawan – were also speaking to the press today.  The third, living legend Lin Dan, went strangely unmentioned.

Indonesia’s Tommy Sugiarto, who has won his two encounters with the last two World Champions in the last three Indonesia Opens, said, “Everyone has the chance to win the title.  What matters most is the preparation.”

Defending men’s singles champion Chen Long, spoke of the challenges he faces this year: “For many years, Chinese men’s singles players could not win titles here in Indonesia.  For me, I haven’t thought as far ahead as who I will play if I reach the final.  I think the most important thing for myself is to play the first match well.

“Winning the World Championship last year gave me a lot of confidence,” said Chen Long, “and I’ve been preparing for one year and this year I have come here and I hope to get my second World Championship.”

Asked for his assessment of the threat from last year’s beaten finalist, Chen said, “I don’t think that Lee Chong Wei got weak or went down at all [in his 7-month layoff] because he is still one of the top athletes in badminton and if he wants, he can keep his level for a very long time.”

Meanwhile, both of Indonesia’s 2013 World Champions are keen to regain their titles at home.

“We were very disappointed that we couldn’t play last year for the championship,” said Mohammad Ahsan.  “This year, as the hosts, we are hoping for victory not only for ourselves, but for all the Indonesian team.”

But they are not the only ones counting on Istora Senayan as a winning formula.  Defending champions in both men’s and mixed doubles talked of their confidence returning to Jakarta.

“I really hope to win the mixed doubles again this year in Indonesia,” said 2014 mixed champion Zhang Nan, “and I am also playing men’s doubles with Fu Haifeng.  Two months ago, we placed second in the Indonesia Open and this has given us a lot of confidence and we hope to have a new breakthrough.”

“We have won a lot in the last few tournaments and the Indonesia Open title was particularly important,” said 2014 men’s doubles champion Ko Sung Hyun of Korea.  “Considering that we will be playing on the same courts, we hope it will bring us the same result.”

In fact, those last few tournaments were very important for the Koreans, who were not able to play together early this year, as Shin Baek Cheol was away from the courts for military duties: “At the beginning of the year, I had to participate in basic training for the military for the first time but my team-mates made it easier to come back to badminton after three months.

“Winning the World Championships last year was good experience for us but Indonesia is a tough place to play in.

“When we first saw the draw, we knew that these were the world’s best players that we would be facing,” added Shin, “and that meant that right from the first round, every match would be important.  All we can do is to focus and try our best.”

The women’s doubles seems to be more wide open this year than it has been in recent memory and two of the most intriguing prospects were represented at Sunday’s press conference, including Asian Games gold medallists Greysia Polii and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, who are among the most established of the top pairs in this year’s field.

“We have done very well over the past year but coming into these World Championships, it is not a burden,” said Greysia Polii.  “What we can do is bring our expectations and our confidence and focus on every match.  Being World Champion is every athlete’s dream but the most important thing is not to win but to enjoy the competition.”

Meanwhile, defending women’s doubles champions Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei will make this competition only their second of the year as a pair.  This is very different from the situation when they won their Olympic title in 2012 and their world title last year after solid two and four years respectively of their partnership.

This year, both the Chinese and Korean teams have continued to experiment with pairings, a process that is slated to continue with next month’s Japan Open.  Meanwhile, a pair from outside China will be the top seed at the Worlds for the first time since 2009.

“We are getting older every year and our rivals are getting stronger,” said Tian Qing, “and we are very excited to face these very good rivals and we are excited to face the foreign pairs, especially the younger ones who are very strong and very competitive.  I think first we have to be better ourselves and then we can expect the results.”

Asked which of her two titles she would most like to defend, Tian’s partner Zhao Yunlei replied, “It’s very difficult for me to choose because both are very important to me.  I feel very lucky and very happy even to have been eligible to play in both events so I just want to play every match at my best.”

The magic of Jakarta

Even defending women’s singles champion Carolina Marin was upbeat about playing in Jakarta, despite her lack of success here in recent years.

“I like this country so much and Indonesia is my favourite tournament,” said Carolina Marin.  “The World Championships are here and I am happy to play in this arena because I know I will have a lot of support from many fans here in Indonesia and I like it so much.

“I know I had a bad result here at the Indonesia Open but I was also very tired after winning the Australian Open.  I’m very excited to play here because I don’t want to think about defending the title from last year.  I just want to think that I can win another new title and this is in my mind and I want to keep my focus on that.

“A month ago, I suffered an injury and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to play at the World Championships but I was studying with my coach and we improved a lot of things.  Then I started to train and had my best performance so I am very happy that I can be here.

“I was surprised last year because many people sent me messages of congratulations and they were supporting me and it pleases me to hear that people want to see badminton and want to practice badminton.”

As proceedings drew to a close, it was the taciturn Chen Long who summed up the anticipation that many of the players are obviously feeling: “Playing in Indonesia is very special because it has the most fantastic fans and the hall is very crowded and very noisy which sometimes creates pressure for us but it is equal for all the players, not just us, so I just want to be stable and play every match at my best.”

Don Hearn

About Don Hearn

Don Hearn is an Editor and Correspondent who hails from a badminton-loving town in rural Canada. He joined the Badzine team in 2006 to provide coverage of the Korean badminton scene and is committed to helping Badzine to promote badminton to the place it deserves as a global sport. Contact him at: don @