You have exciting players

RUDY HARTONO with P. Gopi Chand.-

Rudy Hartono is considered a badminton icon. A winner of eight singles titles from 10 final appearances at the prestigious All England championships, Hartono is undoubtedly the most revered player in the history of the game. At 57, Hartono is at present the Chief Development Officer of badminton in Indonesia and among those responsible for the preparation of the National teams. An avid golfer with a handicap of eight, Hartono lives in Jakarta. He took time off and shared his thoughts, with Sportstar, on several subjects.

On the magic of All England championship: As you know we have bigger events in Asia but the All England remains the biggest in the world because of its history. Obviously, it will take time for some of the richer events to gain the kind of status that All England enjoys.

On his historic triumphs in All England: I think the most important was the first one when I beat Malaysia's Tan Aik Huang (in 1968). But looking back, I think the one I cherish is my seventh title that came after I beat Punch Gunalan (in 1974). It was a close match and I was under pressure to win. Since Punch was a doubles player it was clear that if he won, he would not return to defend his title. That would have also meant that I would not get an opportunity to settle the score. So it was very important for me to win that final.

On the All England championships in the 1960s and 1970s: During those days, there were very few tournaments. So one got a lot more time to prepare for All England which was also the unofficial world championship. There were hardly any Grand Prix or Open events in those days. All the leading players came prepared for All England.

On life after eight All England titles: Well, it made me popular in my country and wherever badminton is played. Even today, people respect me for my All England achievements and seek my autographs. It feels good. Today, I play golf as and when I get time. I think, golf is a great game that allows people of my age to test their skills. What more, you can play all by yourself without having to wait for your opponent.

On his memorable moments (besides winning the All England): I really enjoyed winning my two matches in the 1967 Thomas Cup final against Malaysia. Though we lost the tie, I was very pleased that I beat Tan Aik Huang and Yue Cheng Hoe. Then of course, winning the Thomas Cup for the first time in 1970 was very special. I was part of the champion side in 1973, 1976 and 1979, too.

On the performance of Indonesia's Thomas Cup team: Thank God, we qualified. Otherwise, I would have stayed back in your country (laughs). As you know, Taufik (Hidayat) got married just a few days before coming here. He was obviously not at his best. Even our other singles players just about did the needful. I am sure things will improve when we play the Finals in Japan (in April-May 2006).

On the decline of Indonesia's women's team: To be honest, after Susi Susanti and Mia Audina, we never had players of that calibre. It is not that we are not trying to find talented girls but somehow, we are not getting them.

On Indonesia making way for China: We, in Indonesia, do not enjoy the kind of backing that China enjoys at home. As you know, in China, the state takes care of everything. That is why it is getting better in every sport. This system in China is giving terrific results.

On the change to 21-point format: In my opinion, the 15-point format was the real thing, when you won points only on serve. The change of format was necessitated by the market forces ruling badminton today.

On Indian badminton: I am amazed at the ability of your players. During my playing days, Prakash was simply a delight to watch. Later, Gopi was among the elite in the world. But I wonder why the number of good players in your country is not growing. Indians have always made good use of the wrist. But you have some exciting players who need to be nurtured.

RAKESH RAO