Memories of…Indonesia and Singapore

As the tournament with the busiest schedule looms on the horizon, Badmintonphoto photographer and frequent Badzine contributor Yves Lacroix shares with us his memories of the last two Superseries events, […]

Fans sharing Juliane’s joy after her first title © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

As the tournament with the busiest schedule looms on the horizon, Badmintonphoto photographer and frequent Badzine contributor Yves Lacroix shares with us his the last two Superseries events, two of the finest events on the badminton tour.

Story and photos by Yves Lacroix

I am one of the very lucky few photographers who get to go on tour for most of the Asian Superseries tournaments.  Such a feeling of privilege is usually at its peak every time I come back from the Indonesia and Singapore Opens.  Two weeks of covering world-class badminton mean very long and tiring work days but also many unforgettable moments and strong emotions.

Ever since the Singapore and Indonesia Opens have been paired up to be held in June, it was the first time that the latter was held first before the former.  Therefore, my first destination would of course be Jakarta.

Colourful Indonesian fans during the finals © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

Having been to every edition of the Djarum since 2008, my first surprise was on the day before the event when, on my way to pick up my pass, I walked through the outdoor set-up in front of Istora Senayan.

‘Oh, wow, they really want to make this big this year!’  I thought to myself.  The outdoor set-up was a mixture of amusing stands, shops, giant TV screens, music scenes, interactive booths and other various attractions.  Numerous players and umpires told me how impressed they were by this year’s set-up and rightfully so.  The great thing about it is that it really feels like you’re coming to a huge fiesta and that really what the Indonesia Open has been for so many years.

Not only is the set-up beautiful and impressive but it also sends a very strong message to the fans: come on in and participate!  I know for a fact that some Grand Prix tournaments offer less total prize money than what the entire set-up cost!

Fans – young and old – take their turns to get photographed in front of huge – and I mean huge – shuttlecocks or cardboard cut-outs of their favourite players.  Others wait patiently to have an Indonesian flag painted on their happy and smiling faces.

Even the assistants join in the fun © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

Indonesian Superheroes kick off Indonesia Superseries

What most fans don’t get to see, though, is the welcome dinner for players and officials.  This year, it was held at the end of qualifying day in the majestic ballroom of the Sultan Hotel, just a few minutes away from the stadium.

To begin the party, the organizers got some of the top players dressed up as traditional superheroes.  To name just a few, Taufik Hidayat, Jan Jorgensen, Lee Yong Dae, Greysia Polii, Ashwini Ponnappa were among those in costume.

Some seemed more than happy to be the visual targets of the rather large crowd on hand whilst others seem a bit shy to parade in such extravagant outfits.  It was a joy to see all the team-mates making fun of their brave friends who agreed to show off their bodies in front of all these people and cameras.  (click here for a gallery of my photos from the welcome dinner)

The rest of the evening was filled with entertainers trying to get the crowd involved in various games and some traditional flute playing!  To top it off, all the people present at the welcome dinner received a nice traditional flute with Djarum 2012 Indonesia Open written on it.  A very nice touch indeed from the organizers.

Now for the fun on court

A very emotional Peter Gade © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

The five following days of action were to be very exciting, as one could expect in such a badminton mecca as Istora Senayan.  Indonesian top guns such as Taufik Hidayat, Sony Dwi Kuncoro, Simon Santoso, Greysia Polii and Lilyana Natsir were not the only ones to have been greeted by the usual fanatic crowd of screaming and excited young fans.  The same privilege was given to foreign players like Peter Gade, Lee Yong Dae and of course Saina Nehwal.

Peter Gade put on a brave fight but lost in the first round to Sony Dwi Kuncoro in three games.  His press conference was a touching moment when a moved Gade told the media it was his last presence as a player in Indonesia.

Many know that Lee Yong Dae is very popular amongst young female fans but fewer know that he probably is more popular in such countries as Indonesia as he is in his own country!  His huge fan club was to be rewarded for their enthusiasm when he managed to win the tournament with his partner Jung Jae Sung.

Saina Nehwal breaks up after quarter-final win © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

Saina Nehwal once again stole the heart of all the fans as she did a couple of times before with yet another title.  The Jakarta crowd definitely loves Saina.  No wonder – she is such a great athlete.  She is always so calm and focused, whether on or off court.  I also love the way she mingles with her numerous fans.  She stops, smiles and poses with them in such a nice and simple way.  Way to go, Saina!

The most exciting match of the tournament was the hard-fought confrontation between Saina and Wang Shixian.  The 96-minute 21-17, 21-23, 21-19 encounter ended in favour of the crowd favourite.  Saina was so overwhelmed with emotion that she ended in tears of joy.  Very, very nice!

All fun, but too many games for one day!

But ok, the action was great but days were very long at Jakarta.  Day 1, for instance, started at 8:30 AM and the last shuttle was played at around 2:00 AM – enough to kill your average mule!

It was with great joy that I learnt that next year’s Indonesia Open will be played over seven days instead of the current six.  Qualifying day will be played on the Monday and the first days of the tournament will be shorter.

The semi-finals, too, went on for almost 12 hours because of the decision to use only one court.  That formula has its advantages: no player or team are asked to play on an adjacent court that nobody watches.  However, very few fans will watch or attend such a long day in its entirety.

The courts at the famous Istora Senayan in the heart of Jakarta © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

Finals day was also a tad long – over 7 hours of play – because all matches lasted over one hour.  For fun, I had predicted that all five matches would be played in three games and I got it right!

What’s it like courtside?

Badminton is so popular in Indonesia that the media centre is already full on qualifying day.  Most of the journalists and photographers know each other so there is always a joyous – although a tad bit noisy – atmosphere at the media centre.  One can easily imagine the number of photographers and journalists when top Indonesian players make it to the latter rounds of the tournament.  That’s what happened and I was actually refused access to the courts during Simon Santoso’s final.  Uh-oh.  I argued a little but quickly decided to instead make it to the court using an alternative route.  Luckily, my plan worked.

This often happens with smaller stadiums: they offer great atmosphere but limited space for field of play.  The space between the courts is quite narrow at Istora Senayan and some courts were even off-limits even though they were accessible last year.  Even the greatest of tournaments can have its downsides!

I also remember being stuck between courts 1 & 2.  I had to quickly go to another court in order to shoot the winners.  However, there were so many photographers and obstacles that I couldn’t even get out without passing in front of a line judge, something I would never do while a match is in play!

Everything has an end and once again I had to leave such a great event after the finals.  The media team, the liaison officers and the stewards are all so nice and friendly.  I never go back home without a dozen new Blackberry PINs or Facebook friends.

One up for Juliane Schenk, one down for Cheng Shao Chieh © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

From Super to Super

But how can someone complain when he or she has to go to Singapore to attend another Superseries? One just needs to take a one-hour flight to get to this wonderful island.

Everything always goes very smoothly at the .  Getting there – either by MRT or taxi – collecting the press pass, accessing the internet: these are always trouble-free operations.  Working with the media staff is also a joy as they always do their darnedest to accommodate all (reasonable) requests.

This year’s edition was not as jam-packed with action and players as the previous ones.  The Olympic qualifying period being over, many teams decided not to send their top players to the tournament.  No top stars unfortunately meant a much smaller crowd turnout – usually something around 2000 spectators every day – but also a chance for lower-ranked players to grab a Superseries title.  This is exactly what happened in singles for Juliane Schenk and Boonsak Ponsana.

Juliane won her first but well-deserved Superseries title.  I was extremely happy for hard-working Juliane but felt sorry for opponent Cheng Shao-Chieh, who has so much talent to offer.  Whatever the result, I knew I would be happy for the winner and sorry for the loser.  Argh.

I don’t know how he did it but Boonsak Ponsana managed to survive at least three three-game close calls to win his second Superseries title, his first also having come in Singapore.  Well done, Boonsak.  It was also nice to see players such as Cheng Wen Hsing and Chen Hung Ling win a much deserved second Superseries title.

Sari and Yao - The agony of defeat © Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto

My fondest memory will be that of the quarter-final match between Maeda and Suetsuna of Japan and the 2010 winners Sari Shinta Mulia and Yao Lei representing Singapore.  What a match that was! 89 minutes and a score of 21-19, 17-21 and 27-25 in favour of the Japanese surely tell the entire story.

My Singaporean friends didn’t win – despite seven match points, argh! – but couldn’t find a better way to lose a match.  With the upcoming Olympics, it is indeed very good timing for Sari and Yao to play as well as they did during the summer of 2010.  Thumbs up to the Singapore crowd who were graceful enough to applaud and acknowledged the effort put in by their local team.

I can’t find a better way to end my article than to tell the following anecdote that happened during the Singapore Open.  The first involves something I had never seen before and that I would have never expected to see – especially in Singapore.  During one of the matches I was shooting, I saw something moving in a downward direction.  After closer inspection, I realized it was a half-crushed beer can slowly floating down from the ceiling! I immediately notified the referee about the incident.

The last time I shot a Superseries event right before the Olympics, I saw a cat roaming around central court at the Indonesia Open. This year, it was a beer can at the Singapore Open. What will it be in 2016?  That is the question!

Yves Lacroix

About Yves Lacroix

Based in Montréal, Yves has been an archivist for most of his career and started badminton photography early in the millennium. He has been part of the team since its infancy and his work both behind the camera and behind the photo website is key to the success of Badzine.