We have another guest post by Aske from Beast Badminton. In this post, Aske will tell us more about the famous Minions in Badminton – how they started, how they complement each other and what made them the Badminton icons they are today! Read on and enjoy!
Have you ever heard of the cartoon Lucky Luke who is famously faster than his shadow?
That’s how it feels watching Kevin Sukamuljo and Marcus Gideon, better known as The Minions in badminton.
It’s often hard to tell where nicknames come from, but they likely earned “The Minions” (referring to the movie Despicable Me) because of their below-average height while being fast and agile on the court.
Gideon is 1.68 m (5 ft 6 in), and Sukamuljo is 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in).
I was wondering whether this nickname felt negative but Gideon mentioned in an interview on The Badminton Experience that he thinks it’s fun that they are called Minions.
I’m positive that this was also intended by their fans who dubbed them this out of love as they’re easily one of the world’s most popular and successful men’s doubles.
The question is, what makes this doubles pairing so good, and is there anything about their partnership and playing style you can start using in your own doubles game for your next practice?
That’s what we’ll unpack while I take you on the court with the two players who changed the men’s doubles game with their popular partnership.
The Super Badminton Minions: The Story Why People Love Them and How They’re Different
The early story of this insanely powerful men’s doubles has a few twists and turns of fate.
The two badminton minions, Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon might as well have ended up with different doubles partners.
First of all, Sukamuljo started as a men’s singles player and didn’t even want to play doubles even after a coach suggested he would have more success here.
As we know, he eventually did transition into the doubles discipline, but the first time the pair met on the court in 2014, it wasn’t together, but opposite each other in the Indonesian Masters.
Gideon who was an independent player at the time, and his partner, Markis Kido, came out on top in this match.
They were headed down different career paths because Sukamuljo played under the Indonesian national team, and Gideon had left the year before because of disagreements with coaches.
However, after doing well in this and other tournaments that same year, Gideon got invited to rejoin the national team, which he did since Kido was retiring from the sport.
Fate tied it’s final knot and Gideon and Sukalmuljo were paired soon after. It’s right around this time that The Minions’ badminton legacy was born.
After that initial sight of success, they kept improving until they secured a win in the All England Open in 2017 and climbed to the world rankings of number one in men’s doubles.
Together, they’ve won nearly every major tournament in the following years and up to 2022 (at the writing of this article).
Their success together started to take off already a year after they were paired, but it’s really from 2017 that they’ve dominated men’s doubles with very few opponents who’ve been able to break their game.
Some of their career highlights are winning seven Super Series in 2017 and eight World Tour titles in 2018. These include the most challenging and prestigious tournaments such as the All England Open, Asian Games, Indonesia Open and China Open.
As a result of this, they were awarded the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Best Male Players of the Year two years in a row (2017 and 2018) and were nominated in 2019 as well.
These guys barely know the meaning of the word losing. Just take a look at their performance here.
And that doesn’t even include their 2017 run, where they started the season by climbing to the top of the BWF World Rankings as the number one men’s double, where they stayed for 215 consecutive weeks until September 2022.
Famous BWF commentator Gillian Clark even said that their fast playing style evolved men’s doubles game to a new level, and based on their dominance for the past five years, she’s probably right.
So what goes into creating a men’s double with this kind of impact on the sport?
The Two Halves of The Minions
Between the two, Kevin Sukamuljo is often recognized as the star player, who is explosive and fast.
He is also infamous as one of the players in badminton who reacts a lot on the court and taunts his opponents, which some consider to be a less charming aspect of watching The Minions play. Still, even amateur players sometimes feel the heat of the moment when crucial points are at stake, and you have plenty of emotions to deal with.
The other half is Marcus Gideon, who has a powerful smash which he uses a lot.He often gets overlooked but he does not really care. He is a steady player who can clean up and allow Sukamuljo to be more explosive and play his style, even if it’s risky at times.
They complement each other well, as explained by Gideon in his interview with The Badminton Experience. You see his point when you look at The Minions’ badminton play which is famously fast with a strong defense. You can see it on this example!
But let’s look at each of them individually for a second.
Player Profile: Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo
As mentioned, Sukamuljo tends to appear as the star player who does controversial things every now and then – kinda like Cristiano Ronaldo from football or Nick Kyrgios from tennis (who’s well known for being extremely vocal, taunting opponents and constantly arguing with officials.)
As pointed out in Gideon’s interview with The Badminton Experience, whether we like it or not, both aspects of Kevin’s game draw people in to watch them play.
Look at this answer to a Reddit question about people’s favorite badminton player.
In that same interview with The Badminton Experience, Gideon gives credit to Sukamuljo for making the sport more interesting in the way he plays and promotes awareness and viewership for fans of the sport. He even compares it to other sports, such as Boxing and the UFC, where you have to do something out of the ordinary to create excitement and build anticipation for upcoming events.
One way Sukamuljo draws in fans and haters alike is by being vocal directly toward his opponents. It’s controversial and unusual because it tends to be less allowed in badminton than in other sports. I say “tends to be” because the umpires are often inconsistent and don’t call the same faults.
Here’s one example where he gave thumbs down to another doubles pair after beating them and imitating their moves in a negative way.
In another match, he attempted to blow the shuttle out of the court and got a yellow card.
This isn’t to say that he’s an overly negative character because he has his qualities as well, such as popularizing the flat drive serve.
He also has insanely quick reaction shots. Maybe the fastest in all of badminton.
However, his expressive and taunting behavior walks a fine line, and it has resulted in big arguments with players even after a match.
But the minion fan base is so strong that they even booed the Danish double both during and after the controversy happening off the court and then later on social media.
While some of these actions push the boundaries of what’s considered acceptable conduct in the sport, it’s part of his style to see if he can shake his opponent mentally and get in their head.
He often pretends to hit the shuttle when he knows it’s out to trick and taunt opponents who might get annoyed by him poking fun at them. This mental warfare works well for him since he’s often successful at frustrating and antagonizing opponents in a way that likely affects their focus during important rallies.
Sukamuljo also has an extremely wild way of playing badminton.
He’s super fast on the net, his reactions are incredible, and he anticipates a lot of opponents’ returns.
Here he intercepts the serve for a kill shot and, in the following rally, works the net like he’s able to fly sideways.
Even with his mental warfare, he will still keep his focus in high-pressure situations and drag out ice-cold plays like this one in a final set.
Player Profile: Marcus Fernaldi Gideon
Gideon is the quiet force behind Sukamuljo with the killer smash.
People love him for being humble – just check these comments from his interview on Youtube.
He also used to compete in singles and won a tournament at 18 years old before joining the Indonesian national team.
Off the court, he appears to be entrepreneurial. He has opened a badminton academy and wants to expand and open a lot of academies in the smaller cities in Indonesia.
He talks about playing with Kido in his early career and says that he’s admired him since he was a young player and eventually came to consider him his mentor before Kido ended his career and Gideon returned to the Indonesian national squad.
You could speculate as to whether they have some similarities in their playing style. For example, the killer jump smash, which Kido was well known for.
Even though Gideon might be somewhat less entertaining to watch, don’t be fooled by his calmer appearance – he’s still wildly competitive.
Maybe the most admiring aspect about Gideon is that he’s an incredibly hard-working player. On that same episode of The Badminton Experience, he acknowledges that there’s a difference in the skill level between himself and Sukamuljo.
He says he probably has to train eight hours for something, whereas Sukamuljo would reach the same result from only five hours of training.
He comments that “Not everyone has the same skill as him (Sukamuljo).”
But all of this doesn’t deter him. He simply looks at that as a fact he has to deal with and chooses to work harder.
Think about that for a second.
He’s at the very top of what you can achieve in men’s badminton, and even though his partner has more “talent”, he reaches the same performance by outworking everyone else.
If you look at their rallies, you can see how much work Gideon puts in. If you were to take that away, Sukamuljo most likely wouldn’t be able to play his wild style to peak performance.
Here you can see how Gideon holds down the rally before Sukamuljo sweeps in with his speed on the net.
Their fan base also recognizes that The Minions need two halves to work.
What We Can Learn From The Minion’s Badminton Style and Use in Our Own Everyday Doubles Games
It’s often difficult to look at the best players in the world and think that you could even begin to do anything they do.
Even though most of us know we’ll never reach their level, I’ve still found that certain things from The Minions game would likely improve any doubles partnership significantly – and some of them, you could already do in your next match or practice.
1. Communicate to sync up with your doubles partner
One of the most important parts of doubles play is to communicate well to avoid confusion about who has to cover which shot and be able to move around the court without hesitation because doubles games tend to be fast.
This is even more important if you don’t play with the same partner all the time, but even The Minions, who likely know each other’s moves before they happen most of the time, still communicate clearly in many situations.
Like this rally where Sukamuljo calls a shuttle out in the air to help Gideon make a quick decision.
This seems to be something they drill in training as well.
Listen to this video from behind the scenes of All England, where they train 3v3. There’s a lot of loud yelling.
Good communication and awareness of your partner on the court are one of the best ways to start playing faster in doubles.
Gideon and Sukamuljo have some of the most fluid and well-timed movements of any partnership in men’s doubles. It’s absolutely crazy how much in sync they are with each other.
To me, it looks like a sophisticated network of connections that constantly signals every move for the other to react to (which it probably is).
Watch the clip below where they rotate positions with Gideon moving up and Kevin automatically dropping back – then they reverse it (four times).
At the same time, they also switch in and out of attacking (back and front) and defensive positions (side by side). Notice that on top of this, they sometimes take a quick look at their partner’s shot to anticipate where to move.
These are very valid lessons in communication that any doubles pair can start working on today.
- There’s almost no such thing as overcommunicating with your partner
Especially with new partners, you’ll want to be more detailed about things because you’re not in sync yet. Telling them where you move and whether you see a shuttle being in or out diminishes a lot of confusion.
- Don’t be afraid of getting loud on the court
I know it can seem annoying, but it’s better for your partner when you yell their name to indicate it’s their shuttle or shout “SMASH” if you see an opportunity before they do. Of course, you want to be aware of staying within the code of conduct (or maybe take some inspiration from Sukamuljo.)
- Look at your partner’s position when it’s their shot
You can be proactive about communication if you decide where to move before the return shuttle. This way, you can also move to cover areas that are likely to be open for attacks if you notice your partner is out of balance and you might need to defend until they recover.
Gideon and Sukamuljo have been partners for years, and their level of communication is like a well-oiled machine.
However, no matter how well you know your partner’s moves, doubles are sometimes so fast that you have to use loud, open, and clear communication to stay on top in the rally – even at the highest level.
2. The service game
Anyone who plays doubles knows how much serving and receiving means for every rally.
Sukamuljo is well known for his unpredictable serving style. He mixes it up a lot and will catch opponents with flick serves, tumbling/spinning serves, or the drive serves, that I mentioned earlier.
He’ll do these sometimes in situations where the score is 20-19, which is nerve-wracking since most players won’t try a “wild” serve on a match point. If you have the nerve to pull it off, it works because it’s so unexpected.
Gideon often serves in a very stable and consistent low serve, but he’s extremely good at doing this in a way that’s hard to return as an offensive strike.
The point here is that there’s a good balance between a very stable serve from one partner and a wild card from the other. This means opponents constantly have to adapt to different serving styles. That’s one of the advantages of using your different strengths in doubles to make them even stronger.
When it comes to receiving the serve, The Minions have incredible quickness.
Here’s Gideon with a service return that immediately puts the other doubles pair under pressure.
Here’s Sukamuljo with a kill shot on his return.
This is a combination of anticipating the serve, moving quickly on it, and having the right position and stance to do so.
Take a look at these examples.
Sukamuljo receiving a serve.
Gideon receiving a serve.
They’re very similar in how they get ready to receive service.
Notice their stance, ready to move forward to attack the shuttle immediately. Secondly, they both position themselves about one-third towards the T in the service box. This allows them to move on the shuttle and defend the rest of the service box if it’s a drive or flick serve.
Some doubles players will stand in the middle of the service box which means you won’t be able to move as fast on the shuttle.
You can start to mimic this service game even if it might take a while to get used to.
- Coordinate serving style with your partner. Mix it up to constantly keep opponents on their toes. Figure out what your strongest serves are and double down on these.
- Practice getting quick on the return serve to attack the shuttle as ideally as possible (at or above net height).
- Position yourself in the service box to allow for an attack on the return serve but keep in mind not to leave the rest of the service box open without a way to cover it.
3. Incredible balance between roles
The Minions are almost balanced as well as Yin and Yang.
Most famously is their rock-solid defense.
You often see them lifting with great patience, looking completely comfortable defending against aggressive attacks.
Normally, lifting is considered a defensive move that gives the advantage back to the opposition, but they’re confident defending this way until an opportunity shows up.
In this clip, you see a series of high lifts where Sukamuljo eventually lifts short (almost like a drop) and wins the point.
Or this clip of insane drive shots back and forth.
Two things to notice here are how they stand with each other and how they react to aggressive attacks.
For most badminton doubles, the rule of defense is for both partners not to crowd the middle and slightly move to either side of the court. This way one partner can cover straight smashes and other attacks down the line since they travel shorter than cross shots which will be the other doubles partner’s responsibility.
Gideon and Sukamuljo don’t use this as a hard rule.
They sometimes stand incredibly close to each other and are almost always both in a good position to take shuttles between them. At times even on their partner’s side of the court.
(Of course, their size and reach are different from other much larger doubles partners who might be able to achieve the same cover reach even though they’re standing further from each other.)
The main point is that they show how knowing each other’s position and movement, on an almost instinctive level, opens up more unconventional and fast playing styles.
A word of caution here – being closely linked up can be a disadvantage if your opponents attack the middle, which often confuses who should take the shuttle.
Even though that might be the case for most doubles, they seem to have developed an antidote for this by proactively reacting to every shot that isn’t theirs.
They start the racket movement to return, as a reaction, even if it’s their partner’s shot. It’s not a follow-through but more of a constant motion of readiness.
Especially Sukamuljo who has this “twitch” nearly every single time, even when it’s Gideon’s shot (probably because of his incredible reactions that he’s known for).
See if you can notice the little reactive twitch in their rackets every time a shot is played that they might both reach.
On the attacking side, they play similarly and love to play at the highest pace possible.
Gideon’s power smashes, combined with Sukamuljo’s quickness on the net looks like this.
Here’s what you can do to create a more balanced doubles game.
- Develop a strong lift game
Practicing and developing a strong lift can be a phenomenal way of defending several smashes in a row and tiring out your opponents, who have to work hard for points.
- Defend with patience
Doubles defense is a lot about patience. The Minions are happy to stay in defense until they sport an opportunity to attack. Constantly having another double rain down on you with attacking shuttles doesn’t mean you can’t turn the tide.
- Positions, positions, positions
Gideon and Sukamuljo are rarely more than a racket arms reach away from each other. They try to enforce these positions by constantly moving in that relation to each other and recovering back to this base point after taking shuttles under pressure.
- React! Even when it’s not your shot
When doubles go fast, and you make this reaction a reflex, you have a much bigger chance of catching a shuttle that isn’t 100% yours or your partner’s because you already started moving your racket. It’s easier to abort a strike that isn’t yours, but striking a fast drive or other attacks in doubles is often too late if you don’t anticipate or react quickly.
4. The ideal doubles pairing
This is an extension of the balance I just talked about.
Gideon and Sukamuljo might be the perfect combination of a solid and fast player at the back who has devastating smash attacks (Gideon) and an unpredictable and lightning-quick net player at the front (Sukamuljo).
This partnership allows Sukamuljo to play a free and higher-risk style on the net where he excels while Gideon can “save” shuttles, set up and finish attacks with his power smashes. It’s like pairing the best of two worlds.
Of course, it requires a lot of technique and practice to play even remotely close to The Minion’s badminton level. One thing you can take away is that you need time with the same doubles partner to lock in movement and positions to the point where you automatically know where your partner will be.
If you want to get more serious about doubles games, consider finding a partner that has a different playing style from yours. You don’t want to have the same strengths and weaknesses that will become too easy to exploit.
Gideon and Sukamuljo work because one is content to be a rock at the back and the other a wildcard. Could you imagine two Gideons or two Sukamuljos achieving the same level in men’s doubles? Probably not.
The ideal pairing comes from playing with the same partner for a long time and having a partner that excels in different areas than yourself.
- It’s possible to transition from singles to doubles. Gideon and Sukamuljo both started as single players and since moved on to dominate the men’s doubles game in the past five years.
- Badminton always has mental warfare happening between the lines of the court. You need to be prepared to handle this either by trying to shake your opponents’ mental focus like Sukamuljo or by practicing calmness like Gideon – but remember it’s a fine line to walk.
- Your hard work as a badminton player can level out the difference between yourself and other more “talented” players. Sukamuljo might be considered a player with more flair and talent but by putting in twice as many hours and drilling like Gideon you’ll be able to play at the same level as your competition.
- A strong recipe for doubles includes:
- communication to sync up with each other
- playing with the same partner exclusively
- becoming experts in different serving styles
- becoming aggressive on service returns
- having constant and fluid movement in your positions
- being within racket reach of each other
- reacting as if every shot could be yours
- finding a doubles partner different from yourself
Aske writes about badminton on his blog. If you’re looking to score extra points in your games this weekend, consider learning about badminton footwork next.
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