Jakarta. Indonesian badminton men's doubles pair Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo won the 2018 All England Open on March 18 by defeating world number two pair Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark in a straight game 21-18, 21-17.
With their latest achievement, Marcus and Kevin have now won the All England twice since last year and matched the achievement by Indonesian men's doubles legends Rexy Mainaky and Ricky Subagja, who also won the title twice in the 1990s.
Nicknamed the "Minions" due to their small stature, Marcus and Kevin have only been playing together since 2015 before shooting to the top to become the world number one pair in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings in March 2017.
The pair won seven BWF Super Series events last year, including three titles in the more prestigious Super Series Premier: the All England, Malaysia Open and China Open, which in turn will improve their ranking.
The other Super Series titles they won last year were the India Open, Japan Open, Hong Kong Open and a Super Series final in Dubai, which were enough to earn them the 2017 BWF Male Players of the Year Award, rarely given to doubles players.
Conquering the All England
The All England Open – the world's oldest badminton tournament – is considered highly prestigious and the pair was therefore a little surprised when they first won the title in 2017.
"I did not expect to win All England this fast; this is a dream come true," Kevin said after last year's triumph. "The All England has been my childhood dream."
"I still can't believe we are the champions," Marcus said at the time.
The "Minions" won all five their matches during the 2017 All England, including defeating senior fellow countryman Hendra Setiawan, who as an independent, was paired with Malaysian Boon Heong Tan in the round of 32.
Of the five matches, the Indonesian pair had only one game that finished in rubber sets: the semifinal against Denmark's Mads Conrad-Petersen and Mads Pieler Kolding, whom they saw off with a 19-21, 21-13, 21-17 victory after an hour-long battle.
"The hardest test was actually when they faced the Danish pair in the semifinal, and luckily my boys were more prepared mentally," their coach, Herry Pierngadi, said at the time.
Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen were the final test for Kevin and Marcus in last year's tournament, but they convincingly defeated the Chinese pair by 21-19, 21-14 in only 35 minutes, which resulted in the Indonesians being crowned champions.
The pair also played five matches in this year's tournament, which was contested by more than 300 elite shuttlers from around the world.
They defeated fellow Indonesians Angga Pratama and Rian Saputro before seeing off Malaysia's Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi in the round of 16 in rubber sets 21-17, 20-22, 21-13.
In the quarterfinals, they conquered Taiwan's Cheng Hung Ling and Wang Chi-Lin 21-15, 21-13.
"[Cheng and Wang] made more mistakes than us, so we took advantage of that," Kevin said, as quoted by the Indonesian Badminton Federation (PBSI) website last week.
In the semifinal, Kevin and Marcus faced the same opponents as last year: Petersen and Kolding. But this time, they beat the world number six pair in straight sets 11-21, 19-21.
While the Indonesian pair's predecessors, Rexy and Ricky, won their first All England medal after five years, Marcus and Kevin needed only two years to achieve the same.
Kevin and Marcus only needed 42 minutes to finish off their older opponents, Boe and Mogensen, in the final in Birmingham on Sunday.
"We lost to the world's best pair and we're proud that; as the number two, we're now probably the only pair who can beat them," Mogensen said on Badminton Europe after the game.
"We made some mistakes in the last minutes, but they [Marcus and Kevin] are the best," he added.
Boe, 37 and Mogensen, 34, now have had four wins and four loses in the head-to-head record against their younger opponents. But the "Minions" have won the last three meetings, including Sunday's final.
"Again, I did not expect to win the All England twice in a row. The road has been tough. It wasn't easy," 27-year-old Marcus said after the final.
"Each time they threatened to get a grip on the proceedings, the title-holders conjured up amazing plays to keep their nose in front," the BWF reported on its website about the men's doubles final.
"The spectacular manner in which the duel concluded was a moment of sheer brilliance, compliments the ever-entertaining Sukamuljo.
"Anticipating a shot from Boe perfectly, the pint-sized player rushed to the net and, jumping forward, pulled off a stunning backhand smash that gave the Europeans no chance; the world No. 1 pair falling to the court in relief as much as in celebration of the 21-18, 21-17 conquest."
Marcus and Kevin are the only Indonesians to have reached this year's final in Birmingham.
"Defending a title is never easy. One year is a long time. A lot of things can happen. We have to maintain our level so this victory means a lot to us," said 21-year-old Kevin, who likes to perform magic tricks, such as changing rackets on the sideline while the game is on.
"I often analyze our next opponents in a tournament to learn their weaknesses," Kevin said of his winning recipe.
For their win, the Ministry of Youth and Sports has awarded the pair a bonus of Rp 500 million ($36,000) – a similar amount they received for bringing home the title last year.
"Congratulations to Kevin Sanjaya and Marcus Gideon for having successfully defended their All England title. Keep it up to add another achievement. Indonesia is proud," President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo tweeted on Monday last week.
Indonesia has now won 46 titles in the All England Open since the tournament's inception 108 years ago.
Selamat atas keberhasilan Kevin Sanjaya/Marcus Gideon yang sukses mempertahankan gelar All England. Pertahankan prestasi sekarang untuk meraih prestasi lainnya. Indonesia bangga! -Jkw— Joko Widodo (@jokowi) March 19, 2018
According to data compiled by Badzine.net, Kevin and Marcus were listed in seventh place on the list of the world's 10 richest shuttlers in 2017, with each having earned $186,625 in prize money.
The pair also won the most titles ever in a year by a men's doubles pair in Super Series events, having collected seven titles in 2017, which exceeded the previous record of six set by South Korea's Lee Yong-Dae and Yeon-Seong in 2015.
The annual World Super Series is the BWF's second-most prestigious event after other major events such as the Sudirman Cup, Thomas Cup, Uber Cup and World Championship, which are, other than the Olympics, typically held once every two years.
Marcus was groomed at PB Tangkas in West Jakarta, which he joined when he was only 9 years old, while Kevin was developed at PB Djarum in Central Java since the age of 11.
Marcus joined the PBSI's national training center in 2011, followed by Kevin two years later.
The national training center, also known by the acronym pelatnas, is a long-term camp for elite shuttlers in Cipayung, East Jakarta, where about 100 athletes, both junior and senior, undergo a special training regime on a live-in basis. The intensive program requires participants to excel or face expulsion to make way for other prospective talent.
"[Marcus and Kevin] were underestimated because they are relatively small [in stature.] But they have gone on to prove who they are," said Indonesian Olympic gold medalist Taufik Hidayat, who previously also attended the national training center.
It turns out that Kevin, who is 170 centimeters tall, and Marcus, at only 167 cm, were accidentally paired because each of their respective partners were unavailable, the latter's father, Kurniahu, previously told Metro TV.
Marcus's partner at the time was 2008 Olympic gold medalist Markis Kido, who urged him to find a replacement after a series of hip injuries. At the same time in early 2015, Kevin's partner Stevanus Gabriel was also injured.
The PBSI has paired them since then and this bore fruit in October 2015 when they won their first major title, the Chinese Taipei Masters Grand Prix, which is just one level below the Super Series. The pair rose to prominence in 2016 by winning three Super Series titles – the India Open, Australian Open and China Open – and two Grand Prix titles – the Malaysia Masters and Indonesian Masters.
Athletes at the national training center in Cipayung are required to participate in badminton training for up to five hours per day – a session in the morning and another in the evening, which according to some reports, may finish at 8 p.m. on average. But Marcus and Kevin, known for their quick decisions and speed of play on the court, always give their best during training, as one of their fellow athletes attested.
"They are disciplined and diligent in training," Vita Marissa, who also attends the national training center, said as quoted on the PBSI's official Twitter account.
"The pair is a complete package, they're special. It can be seen in their mentality, techniques and the way they train," she added.
Vita said Marcus always put in additional individual training in the mornings, right after the official coaching sessions.
"And Kevin I've known since he was a child. He always challenges others to play; he really likes playing badminton," said Vita, who also started out at Kevin's club, PB Djarum.
Kata Vita Marissa tentang psywar yang sering dilakukan Marcus/Kevin di banyak pertandingan. #AllEngland pic.twitter.com/1dFRwwEUxj — BADMINTON INDONESIA (@INABadminton) March 19, 2018
Their coach Herry, who has been coaching at the national training center since 1993, also received a Rp 100 million bonus from the Sports Ministry after the pair's 2018 All England win.
"Their commitment cannot be doubted, it is incredible. They're both fighters; they don't accept defeat," Herry said.