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Badminton’s amateur era lasted more than seven decades, beginning in 1900. This period in badminton’s history witnessed many of the greatest names in badminton whose feats will remain unduplicated. As the sport transitioned into the open era, one man amassed titles at the various open tournaments, including the prestigious All England Open — the Indonesian men’s singles legend Rudy Hartono Kurniawan!
Regarded as the iconic Indonesian singles player of the amateur era, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan holds the most All-England title victories. And he’s the only men’s singles badminton player to reach the All England finals a record-breaking ten times — an unbeaten tally he shares with the GOAT Lin Dan. Rudy Hartono Kurniawan is also a World Champion and a multiple-time U.S. Open and Canadian Open champion. As a doubles player, he experienced success, claiming four men’s doubles titles and a mixed doubles crown. Rudy Hartono also played in the Olympics and won a gold medal after winning the men’s singles demonstration event. Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was instrumental in Indonesia’s nine-year dominance of the Thomas Cup. He played his last match at the 1984 Thomas Cup, announcing retirement after losing to China’s Luan Jin in the men’s singles final. For his accomplishments, Rudy Hartono was inducted into the International Badminton Federation (IBF) Hall of Fame in 1997.
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan did more than bag title after title. By doing so, he positioned Indonesia as a badminton powerhouse. Let’s dive in and revisit the illustrious career of the Indonesian Legend Rudy Hartono Kurniawan!
Born Nio Hap Liang, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was born on August 18, 1949, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. He has seven siblings, including Utami Devi — who would grow up to be one of the most dominant Indonesian players of the 1970s.
Growing up, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was an active child. He participated in a vast array of sports, playing football and volleyball. He also participated in swimming, skating, and athletics.
His exposure to different sports enabled him to develop his agility and work capacity. As he excelled in multiple athletic endeavors, it wouldn’t be long until he found himself drawn to the racket and shuttlecock.
When Rudy Hartono Kurniawan turned nine, he began playing badminton recreationally. Quickly, his dabbling in the sport turned into a youthful fascination and obsession that caught his father’s eye.
By age 11, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan’s skills had developed to a point where his father, Zulkarnain Kurniawan, could train him. Supportive of his son’s fascination with the game, he set up a badminton court at a nearby railway warehouse, complete with a net and lines.
There and under the guidance of his father, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan sharpened his skills and did what any 11-year-old does after discovering a passion — he became even more obsessed!
After Rudy Hartono Kurniawan’s 12th birthday, he developed the confidence to play against other young shuttlers. He joined his first badminton tournament in his hometown of Surabaya, winning his first junior outing.
After the victory, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan moved to a different club. He joined the prestigious Rajawali Club, a training ground for many talented Indonesian players. He stayed at this club and won several national tournaments.
By 15, he had already amassed numerous municipal and national titles. Thanks to his early achievements, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan became one of the Indonesian National Badminton team’s top youth picks!
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan took his training to the next level with the national team.
Debut at the Thomas Cup
In 1965, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan became part of the Indonesian Thomas Cup team. The team’s coaches selected him in preparation for the upcoming 1967 Thomas Cup in Jakarta.
At the 1967 Thomas Cup, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was one of the team’s youngest members. He competed in the men’s singles event, facing the best singles players from Japan, the U.S, Denmark, and Malaysia.
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan bested every singles player placed in front of him. Advancing to the finals of the 1967 Thomas Cup, he faced Malaysia Tan Aik Huang. The young and up-and-coming Hartono Kurniawan made short work of his experienced opponent, winning dominantly in straight sets.
The victory sent shock waves across the hometown crowd and the Malaysian team. Unfortunately, in a sudden turn of events, jubilation quickly turned to chaos as fans began to riot in the stands.
The unrest left the organizers of the tournament no alternative. The final rounds, or the “Challenge Round,” had to resume with the crowd locked outside the stadium.
Unfortunately, this twist in the finals was more than enough to eclipse Rudy Hartono Kurniawan’s contributions. Given the option to face New Zealand to get to Malaysia, Indonesia declined. With no challengers for New Zealand, Malaysia won their fourth Thomas Cup.
Despite the loss, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was no doubt one of the bright young stars of the show. Impressing everyone at the Thomas Cup, he foreshadowed a dominant career where losses would be few and far between.
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan’s Senior Debut
After the 1967 Thomas Cup, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan debuted as a senior at the prestigious and competitive All-England.
At the 1968 All England, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan was the youngest entrant in the men’s singles tournament, having just turned 18. Facing more experienced shuttlers, he dominated the tournament to advance to the finals.
Awaiting him in the finals was a player he had faced a year before the All England —the Malaysian, Tan Aik Huang.
Shades of their meeting at the 1967 Thomas Cup finals, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan put on a dominant performance. Beating his opponent in straight sets, he won his first All England title and became the youngest men’s singles champion in the tournament’s history!
After the All England, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan won two other tournaments that year. He competed in India at the Northern and Western Indian tournaments, where he faced his more experienced compatriots.
At the 1968 Northern Indian, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan breezed through the men’s singles tournament to advance to the finals. In the finals, he faced and defeated Muljadi, winning the match in straight sets.
Weeks later, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan competed in the men’s singles event of the Western Indian. Again, he dominated the tournament to face his compatriot Darmadi in the finals. The finals match was close. But Rudy Hartono Kurniawan proved his ability to play under pressure and defeated his compatriot in straight sets, albeit narrowly.
In short, Rudy Hartono debuted with a bang. In all the tournaments he joined, he was a mainstay at the podium. His debut success would set him up for further success down the road.
A Record-breaking All-England Run
Following his 1968 All England debut, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan competed at the 1969 All England to defend his men’s singles title. As in his debut, he dominated the tournament to advance to the finals. The 1969 All England men’s singles final would be an all-Indonesian last as Hartono Kurniawan faced his compatriot, Darmadi.
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan and Darmadi had already met before the All England. The two faced each other in the finals of the Western Indian. In that match, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan got the better of his more experienced compatriot — and the outcome of the 1969 All England was no different!
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan showed Darmadi no corner in the first game, winning 15 points to one. Come the second game, Hartono Kurniawan made short work on Darmadi after winning 15 to three. Hartono Kurniawan didn’t just win the match but also defended his men’s singles title.
The 1970 All-England
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan didn’t stop there as he set out to defend his All England men’s singles title a second time. At the 1970 All England, he faced an in-form Svend Pri in the finals. The Danish shuttler failed to challenge Hartono Kurniawan, losing to the up-and-coming Indonesian in straight sets. Hartono Kurniawan’s title defense was a success. And the victory made him hungry for the next All England.
The 1971 All-England
At the 1971 All England, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan breezed past his opponents to get to the finals. In the finals, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan faced Muljadi, who he’d already defeated in the Western Indian finals.
Again, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan emerged victorious, cementing his reputation as a force to be reckoned with at the All England.
In this edition of the All England, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan also competed in the men’s doubles event. He partnered with Indra Gunawan to face the Malaysia team of Punch Gunalan and Ng Boon Bee in the finals.
Rudy Hartono and Indra Gunawan lost to their Malaysian opponents. However, by advancing as far as the finals, Rudy Hartono and Indra Gunawan took home silver.
The 1972 All-England
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan continued his title haul at the 1972 All England, where he faced Svend Pri again in the finals. Shades of their past All England encounter, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan dominated his Danish opponent throughout the match, winning in straight sets.
The 1973 and 1974 All-England
The string of All England victories continued for two more years, with Rudy Hartono Kurniawan winning the prestigious tournament in 1973 and 1974. Of these two editions of the All England, the latter was the one that challenged Rudy Hartono Kurniawan.
In the finals of the 1974 All England, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan faced Malaysia’s Punch Gunalan. For the first time in an All England final, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan lost the first game. However, he rallied from behind to win the second game by a narrow 15 to ten, forcing the match into a third game.
Hartono Kurniawan and Gunalan fought tooth and nail to claim the third game. Eventually, Hartono Kurniawan’s resilience paid off as he won 15 to ten.
The 1975 All England: When the Streak Ended
By the time Rudy Hartono Kurniawan competed at the 1975 All England, he had already amassed seven consecutive wins at the tournament — a feat unachieved by any men’s singles badminton player. Eager to defend his title and streak, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan advanced to the finals of the 1979 All England, where Svend Pri awaited him.
Hartono Kurniawan put up a fight. Unfortunately, Svend Pri scored the necessary tie-breaking points to secure the win in straight sets. Svend Pri defeated Hartono Kurniawan. And by doing so, he snatched the title and broke Hartono Kurniawan’s seemingly unbreakable streak.
The 1976 All England: Redemption and an Eighth All England Crown
Fortunately, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan redeemed himself at the 1976 All England. He advanced to the finals as he always did, facing his compatriot Liem Swie King. Rudy Hartono Kurniawan dominated the match and won it in straight sets. The victory gave him his eighth All England title, which he would later lose to Liem Swie King at the 1977 All England.
With seven consecutive All England wins, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan broke the record for the most successive wins at the All England. Also, he broke the record for the most All England wins — a record held by Denmark’s Erland Kops.
Rudy Hartono’s dominant All England run shattered many records, making it one of the most historic All England runs in badminton!
Retirement and Hall of Fame Induction
After winning the 1981 Japan Open, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan experienced the toll aging is taking on his performance. He failed to reach the finals of the 1981 All England, losing as early as the qualifying rounds. However, despite being in the twilight of his career, he answered his country’s call as he represented Indonesia at the 1984 Thomas Cup.
Sadly, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan lost in the finals to China’s Luan Jin. The loss marked the end of two things — Indonesia’s Thomas Cup dominance and Hartono Kurniawan’s career.
After the loss, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan announced his retirement. In 1997, the IBF recognized Rudy Hartono Kurniawan’s achievements and inducted him into the World Badminton Hall of Fame.
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan: Breaking Records in Badminton
Rudy Hartono Kurniawan may be retired. But there’s no denying that his achievements will live on for generations to come. Unparalleled in what he accomplished, Rudy Hartono Kurniawan set the bar high for even today’s greats.
Time will tell if any player will hold a candle to what Rudy Hartono Kurniawan has accomplished in the sport!
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