Farewell to a champ

When Taufik Hidayat waved to the crowd after his shocking loss to the Indian youngster, Sai Praneeth, in the Indonesian Open recently, it marked the end of an era of pure entertainment, writes V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Taufik Hidayat, who retired recently, was a genius in the world of badminton. The temperamental player from Indonesia, playing in his last international tournament (Indonesia Open Super Series) in Jakarta recently, suffered a shock exit in the first round, losing to the Indian youngster Bhamidipati Sai Praneeth.

It was not the kind of farewell the former Olympic and World champion would have loved to receive in front of his adoring home crowd, and that too in a tournament he had won six times. There was also another striking irony here. Earlier this year, Hidayat had said: “Indians are talented, but take Saina (Nehwal) out, the rest are all average and if you line them up against the best in the world they are so-so players. I believe they need to play more tournaments to get the right kind of exposure.” But interestingly, three young faces of Indian badminton — Pratul Joshi, H. S. Prannoy and now Sai Praneeth — have got the better of the 31-year-old Indonesian in recent times.

As far as his career was concerned, the writing was always on the wall for Hidayat. And by his own admission, he was not training regularly of late and was more focussed on his academy — the Taufik Hidayat Arena.

With his exit from the playing arena, the sport will not be the same again. There was a touch of class to the way Hidayat executed the backhand flick, in a flash and with great precision. That even Lin Dan (China), arguably the best player on the circuit in recent times, could not read it with ease was indeed a tribute to the Indonesian.

Badminton, like any other sport, is not only about champions who keep winning every other major title. It is also about characters such as Hidayat, who was ranked World No. 1 in 2000. Hidayat’s major triumphs included the singles gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, the 2005 World Championship gold, two Asian Games gold medals and three Asian Championship gold medals. He was also a member of the Indonesian team that won the Thomas Cup in 2000 and 2002.

Hidayat was also a maverick, his behaviour at times bordering on disorderliness. But he had his own explanation for this. “If someone troubled me, I would definitely get angry. I think it is a normal tendency in any human being. I am Taufik Hidayat, both on and off the court. I don’t see any big difference between others and myself. You can take a close look at this and make your own judgement,” he said during the 2009 India Open in Hyderabad, a tournament he would go on to win.

The beauty of his magnificent career was that Hidayat focussed on entertaining the crowds and not just on winning. According to him, he learnt this from his coach Sumirat. “He kept telling me to entertain and not just keep playing,” Hidayat once said.

He combined this intense desire with a high-voltage display. In fact, his smash was once clocked at 305 kmph.

Quite interestingly, Hidayat once said that he never enjoyed watching the other big names in action and never tried to pick the finer aspects of their game. Perhaps, this was one reason why he was a natural player — with a rare ability to combine flamboyance, elegance and consistency.

After all, it wasn’t easy for Hidayat, hailing from a nation that produced top-class players such as Rudy Hartono, Liem Swie King and Icuk Sugiarto, to carve a special place for himself in the hearts of badminton lovers.

Hidayat, twice runner-up in the All England Championship (1999 and 2000), is an admirer of Lin Dan. “When someone wins the World Championship, the Olympic gold and the All England he has to be very special. A terrific player,” was how he complimented the Chinese.

The one big void in his otherwise brilliant career was his failure to win the All England title. “I think I am never lucky at All England which I, like many, feel is a very special tournament with so much aura (attached to it),” he said after his final appearance this year at Wembley.

When Hidayat waved to the crowd after his shocking loss to Praneeth in the Indonesian Open, it was the end of an era of pure entertainment.