Wristy Trickery Wins the Day – Basel 2019

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan rose to another peak on Sunday, at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019, this one carrying special significance as it came in their second innings together following their post-Rio Olympics split.

With their 25-23 9-21 21-15 triumph over Japan’s Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi, Setiawan – who won a timely birthday present yesterday – tied with Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng on the list for the most successful men’s doubles players at the World Championships with four gold medals. Ahsan follows close behind with three, all won with Setiawan (2013, 2015 and 2019).

All in the wrists; Setiawan’s magic touch.

True to style, it was their magic wrists – flicking, driving, caressing – that put the match beyond the reach of their opponents. For a while though, it looked like Hoki and Kobayashi could pull off the underdog story of the year. The Japanese defended brilliantly and attacked with verve, keeping their opponents pinned on the defensive in the second game. So wide was the lead that the Indonesians gave up the chase, leading to some boos from the crowd.

But Ahsan and Setiawan have been in such situations innumerable times; they worked their way back using the same weapons that have served them well in the past. Setiawan’s touch at the front was again the work of a genius, his probing flicks and sudden and unanticipated angles creating the openings for Ahsan’s putaway.

Hoki was a dynamic presence throughout the match, but Kobayashi’s failure to read the flick serve cost the Japanese dearly. Ahsan didn’t have one of his best days, with numerous hits wide of the mark, but he lent enough support to Setiawan for the Indonesians to establish a wide lead in the third and put the match beyond the reach of the Japanese. The championship was theirs in rather anti-climactic fashion – the Japanese challenged a line call, and the review went against them.

“This one is special because we are not young anymore,” said Setiawan, modest as ever. “We are called veterans and Daddies. It doesn’t affect us. It’s the truth, what matters is that we are young at heart.”

It was the first time in a decade – after Cai and Fu in 2009 – that the men’s doubles pair that won the All England also captured the World Championships.

“It’s not that we did anything special; we just kept our focus and we were mentally ready,” said Ahsan.

Talking of their post-Rio split and their comeback as a pair, Ahsan said the next goal was Tokyo 2020: “The decision to pair up again was ours. We would like to go for one more Olympics. It’s not going to be easy, but we’d like to give it a shot.”

The beaten finalists could only marvel at the way their opponents had slipped their grasp.

“Our opponents changed tactics around midway in the third game and we couldn’t catch up,” said Hoki. “Setiawan was simply too good at the net. I’m happy we played at a high level through the tournament, but today they were too good for us.”