Jonatan Christie: Conversation with a badminton prodigy

16-year-old Jonatan Christie was moved into Indonesia’s national badminton spotlight when he was given a racquet by Taufik Hidayat at the superstar’s farewell ceremony last year. Christie spoke to Badzine earlier this month about his achievements so far and about his future goals.
Jonatan Christie

Jonatan Christie in Jakarta © Nadhira Hafsha for Badzine

16-year-old Jonatan Christie was moved into Indonesia’s national badminton spotlight when he was given a racquet by Taufik Hidayat at the superstar’s farewell ceremony last year. Christie spoke to Badzine earlier this month about his achievements so far and about his future goals.

Interview by Nadhira Hafsha.

Jonatan Christie, who also goes by the nickname Jo, has had a rare experience with the public eye. Not only was he symbolically anointed as the successor to the great Taufik Hidayat, but 4 years earlier, he had already appeared in a feature film, in a supporting role as a singles hopeful.

Christie wasted no time making good on the expectations heaped on him at Taufik’s retirement ceremony, however. Within 3 weeks, he had bagged his first International Challenge, beating world #27 Alamsyah Yunus in the final.

Next, he turned his attention to events and led his team to its first ever Suhandinata Cup final. This year, as the youngster prepares for the World Championships and the Youth Olympics, he’ll first be aiming to make it far enough at the Hanoi International to get his first shot at a top ten opponent.

Team INA

Jonatan Christie with the silver medal-winning Indonesian team at the 2013 Suhandinata Cup World Junior Mixed Team Championship © Gerald Jew for Badzine

Badzine: You still have another year of eligibility in junior events, even after this year’s World Juniors and Youth Olympics. How important are junior results compared to doing well in International Challenge and Grand Prix events?

Jonatan Christie: For me personally, the World Junior Championships and Youth Olympics are two of my main targets at the moment. It’s not that I’m not thinking about Grand Prix events or International Challenge. If we talk about percentage, I’d say it’s 60:40 for junior levels. But if I were given some chances to play at the Grand Prix level more, I wouldn’t dare to refuse, of course. Besides, simply expanding my experience, playing at the senior level would also lift my senior ranking up.

Before the World Juniors, I will be taking part in a couple of International Challenge events. This is also important but the World Juniors and Youth Olympics are more important.

Jonatan Christie

© Ira Ratnati for Badzine

Badzine: Players like Viktor Axelsen, Xue Song, Kento Momota and Heo Kwang Hee were never eligible for a Youth Olympic Games (too young for 2010, too old for 2014). Do you feel this is a good opportunity for you to be able to play the Youth Olympics?

Christie: Of course it’s a good opportunity for me. I was born in the exact time to be able to play there. So, I’m seeing it as a good advantage for me. I don’t have any certain goal or target. I just want to play well. I don’t want to think too far. I’m just trying to focus on my game.

To be honest, at last month’s Asian Juniors, PBSI expected me to grab the title, and I was expecting to also. In the quarter-final, I lost to Hong Kong’s Lee Cheuk Yi. I didn’t know why, but somehow I lost my focus in the second and third games. My game became awful and chaotic. I just could not control my focus anymore.

Badzine: Taufik is retired, Simon is out of the national squad and Sony is out of the top ten. Tommy is still young but 9 years older than you. Do you feel a lot of pressure to lead a new generation for Indonesia in men’s singles?

Christie: I take it as a motivation instead of pressure because if I take it as pressure, it would pretty much affect my game. Beside there’s not only me taking responsibility to lead a new generation in men’s singles.

Jonatan Christie

© Badmintonphoto

Badzine: You received a racquet from Taufik Hidayat at his retirement ceremony. How meaningful was that to you? Does it give you a lot of hope or a lot of pressure to be publicly and symbolically identified as Taufik’s successor?

Christie: Taufik is one of my role models in badminton, so to be symbolically identified by Taufik himself as his successor in a certain sense help to boost my confidence. That also gives me motivation to be like him or to do even more. I hope he’s not giving it to the wrong person, and I’m working hard on it.

Badzine: How did you get involved in badminton? How did it start for you?

Christie: It all started when I joined an extracurricular badminton club in my 1st grade of elementary school. In fact, there was not only badminton. There are also basketball, taekwondo, and football. It was my father’s desire that led me to badminton. He told me to choose badminton instead of the other three.

Jonatan Christie

© Gerald Jew for Badzine

I asked why. His reason was simple: he didn’t want my skin colour to get any darker. And he thought that badminton was the right choice. Actually, at that time, I didn’t have much interest in badminton. I didn’t even know what badminton is. I was more into swimming back then. I once finished on the first place in swimming competition when I was in kindergarten.

Badzine: Who’s your inspiration in Badminton?

Christie: I admire Taufik and Lin Dan. Taufik simply because he’s my role model. Lin Dan because I really like his style of play. It’s always a pleasure watching him play. I learn a lot from his technique.

Badzine: What is it like to be the world’s #1 ranked junior player?

Christie: Of course, it’s a good thing and I’m very happy about it. It proves that Indonesia still has me as its hope in men’s singles. I don’t want to default on their expectations and hopes towards me. It motivates me to do much better in the senior stage. I keep in my mind that someday, I will make Indonesia proud.

Badzine: When do you think you will be able to play constantly on the Superseries stage?

Junior BS Rankings

Christie: I hope in one year I can play constantly at the Superseries level but I don’t want to rush. I just want to take it step by step.

Badzine: Do you have any certain match that can’t be forgotten?

Christie: Yes! For the good one, I think the match against Alamsyah Yunus in the Indonesia International Challenge last year was the best memory for me. I came into that event without any goal or target because I was just back from a trip to Vietnam for Asean School Games where I got 2 gold medals. I didn’t expect to be the winner because I didn’t have any special preparation for it. I had nothing to lose.

As for bad matches, there was one against Jeffer Rosobin in the national circuit. The score in the third game was 19-19. I was rushing to finish the game.

Badzine: Badzine readers voted overwhelmingly that you would be the next teenager to win a major men’s singles title? What is your reaction to that?

Jonatan Christie

© Ira Ratnati for Badzine

Christie: Well, at first I was shocked to be nominated among top names like Kento Momota, Soo Teck Zhi, and Heo Kwang Hee. I mean, if we talk about their achievement, compared to mine, I don’t think I’m even qualified yet. But I really appreciate every single vote. I take it as a trust that they support me to win a Superseries title before the age of 20. I do check the progress of the poll sometimes: on the first day, fifth day, seventh day, and last day.

Badzine: Although we’ve been talking about your badminton career, you’ve also played a role in the movie King. Why did you choose to be an athlete rather than a movie star?

Christie: Because my passion is to be a badminton player. I have my personal target in badminton. I can’t see myself being movie star in the future. I see myself as a successful badminton player in the future. I’ve actually received offers to play a role in a movie a couple of other times. Once was exactly last year. This production house offered to cast me in a movie but I refused, because that is not my passion.

Badzine: What is your personal target?

Christie: I hope that I can make Indonesia proud by winning a prestigious tournament such as the Olympics, the World Championship and the All England. Winning the Thomas Cup and the Sudirman Cup are also among my targets!

About Nadhira Rahmani