There are many talented badminton players today. But few have the honor of putting their countries on the map. The ones who achieve this feat can call themselves legends of the sport, and among them is one of Indonesia’s greatest women’s badminton players — Susi Susanti.
Susi Susanti hails from Indonesia and is known to many as one of the country’s most prolific players. She represented Indonesia in the Olympics twice, winning the Olympic gold medal in the women’s singles event in 1992. As a result of her victory, she became Indonesia’s first Olympic gold medalist in badminton. Also among her accolades are five World Cup titles and three Southeast Asian Games gold medals. She also won nearly 40 Grand Prix titles, including the prestigious All England Open Badminton Championships. She retired in 1998 and entered the Badminton Hall of Fame in 2004.
As one of Indonesia’s greatest players, Susi Susanti blazed the trail for women’s badminton in her country. She also positioned Indonesia as a powerhouse nation in the world of badminton. Let’s shine the spotlight on the Indonesian legend who is Susi Susanti!
Early Life and Badminton Career
Susi Susanti was born on February 11, 1971, in Tasikmalaya, West Java. Her parents were badminton enthusiasts, allowing the young Susi Susanti to pursue physical activities. With the support of her parents, Susi Susanti participated in ballet and gymnastics. These two endeavors enabled Susi Susanti to develop several athletic adaptations at an early age. She became flexible and nimble — traits that would carry over well to her badminton career later on.
When she turned eight, Susi Susanti began playing badminton under the influence of her father. She trained at the local badminton club for seven years before debuting at her first junior tournament.
Her first junior tournament was in 1987 at the World Junior Championships held in Jakarta. In her debut as a junior player, she competed in the girl’s singles, girls’ doubles, and mixed doubles events. She won gold in all three events — a triple crown champion in her junior debut.
Despite her young age, Susi Susanti competed at the 1987 South East Asian (SEA) Games in the women’s singles event. Despite being one of the youngest competitors, she bagged silver at the tournament.
Months after her impressive SEA Games outing, Susi Susanti competed at the World Junior Championships again but in the girl’s singles and doubles events. She defeated China’s Huang Ying in straight sets to win the girl’s singles event. Partnering with Lilik Sudiarwati, she bested the South Korean duo Bang Soo-Hyun and Shon Hye-Joo.
Even early in her career, Susi Susanti exhibited great athleticism and skill. Her podium-worthy finishes in all three events also indicated her versatility as a player.
Susi Susanti debuted as a senior badminton player at the 1989 Chinese Taipei Open. She competed in both the women’s singles and mixed doubles events. Despite the tournament being her debut, Susi Susanti put on an impressive performance, winning silver in the women’s singles event.
Susi Susanti also won silver at the 1989 All England Open Badminton Championships. Competing in the women’s singles event, she faced South Korea’s Hwang Ye-Young in the semifinals. Susi Susanti defeated her in the second and third games to advance to the finals. Awaiting Susanti in the finals was China’s Li Lingwei. Susanti lost, settling for the second silver medal of her debut year.
After the All England, Susi Susanti played in her second SEA Games. At the 1989 SEA Games, she competed in the women’s singles event. She put on a dominant performance and reached the finals where she faced her compatriot Sarwendah Kusumawardhani. Susanti beat Kusumawardhani in straight games, winning her first SEA Games title.
Susi Susanti had another podium-worthy finish at the 1989 Indonesian Open. There, she dominated the women’s singles event, reaching the finals to face China’s Hua Huang. Susanti lost in straight sets, getting the third runner-up finish of her debut year.
Less than a week after the Indonesian Open, Susi Susanti competed at the 1989 Badminton World Cup in China. She competed in the women’s singles event and reached the finals to face hometown favorite Han Aiping. Much to the shock and dismay of the hometown crowd, Susanti defeated Han Aiping, winning gold in the tournament.
1990 to 1991: Getting Her Rhythm
Confident in how she debuted, Susi Susanti began her 1990 campaign with a bang. Early in the year, Susanti competed again at the 1990 All England. As usual, she breezed impressively through the women’s singles event to reach the finals. In the finals, Susi Susanti came face to face with Hua Huang again.
Unlike in their first meeting, Susi Susanti defeated Hua Huang in straight sets. The victory gave Susi Susanti not just her first Grand Prix title but one earned at the most prestigious and oldest badminton tournament in the world.
Susanti’s medal haul didn’t stop there. At the 1990 Australia Open, Susi Susanti played against Australia’s Anna Lao in the finals. Susanti defeated her Australian opponent, winning her first IBF International title.
In the same event, Susanti also placed runner-up in women’s doubles. She also bagged silver in the mixed doubles event, where she paired up with Ardi Wiranata.
1991 was a breakout year for Susi Susanti as she won title after title in the IBF Grand Prix. In just three months, she won the Chinese Taipei Openand Swedish Open. Susanti also bagged her second All England women’s singles after defeating Sarwendah Kusumawardhani in the finals.
Four months after the All England, Susi Susanti competed in her second Indonesia Open. At the 1991 Indonesia Open, Susanti faced South Korea’s Heung Soon-Lee in the finals. Susanti dominated her opponent throughout the match to win her first Indonesia Open title.
Wins at the Danish Open and Thailand Open came shortly after. But perhaps the highlight of her 1991 campaign was her title victory over Kusumawardhani at the SEA Games. The two had already faced off in many finals, including the 1989 SEA Games. Just like in their last meeting, Susi Susanti took the victory, winning her second SEA Games gold medal.
The End of Indonesia’s Trophy Drought: Susi Susanti at the 1992 Olympics
After just three years of turning pro, Susi Susanti represented Indonesia at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. She played in the women’s singles event, breezing through her first four opponents to reach the finals.
Awaiting Susanti in the finals was South Korea’s Bang Soo-Hyun. The final match between Susanti and Bang was a seesaw battle that saw the latter taking the first game decisively. Unwilling to give up, Susi Susanti regained momentum as she won the second game 11 to 5. The third match went the way of Susanti as she took the game 11 to 3.
Susanti did more than win an Olympic gold medal in her first Olympic outing. She also became the first Indonesian badminton player ever to win Olympic gold.
Susi Susanti: Olympic Gold Medalist, World Champion, and All England Champion
After winning her Olympic gold medal, Susi Susanti tore through the women’s singles division. Susanti bagged three Grand Prix title victories, winning the 1992 German Open, Danish Open, and Thailand Open.
With three Grand Prix victories and an Olympic Gold medal, Susanti set her sights on the All England. At the 1993 All England, she faced Bang Soo-Hyun in the finals again.
The match mimicked the 1992 Olympic final, with Bang winning the first game. Susanti came back from behind to win the second and third games. With the victory came Susanti’s third All England title and third victory against Bang Soo-Hyun.
The two met again after the 1993 All England. Susi Susanti and Bang Soo-Hyun faced off in the 1993 Badminton World Championships finals. Susanti and Bang had already faced each other numerous times, with Susanti being the better player in most of their matches. In the finals, Bang Soo-Hyun took the first game — as she had in many of her matches with Susanti. However, Susanti rallied at the end to win the second and third games.
With her victory, Susanti finally claimed her first World Championship title. The win placed her atop the badminton rankings as the only women’s singles player to simultaneously reign as Olympic, All England, and World Champion!
A Dominant Run From 1994 to 1995
Susi Susanti was riding on momentum heading into 1994. She kicked off her campaign with an impressive victory at the 1994 Chinese Taipei Open. Shortly after, she won the 1994 Japan Open, defeating China’s Zhaoying Ye in a nail-biting spectacle of grit and skill.
Susanti faced Zhaoying Ye again at the 1994 All England. Unlike in their past encounters, Susanti won the game in straight sets to defend her All England women’s singles title.
Susanti proved herself to be the better player against Zhaoying Ye on several more occasions that year. Susanti bested Zhaoying Ye at the Malaysian Open and the World Grand Prix finals.
1995 was also a good year for the Indonesian star as she remained undefeated in the Grand Prix circuit. She notched back-to-back victories in four Grand Prix tournaments against her long-time South Korean rival Bang Soo-Hyun. However, Bang managed to get the better of Susanti at the 1995 China Open.
Susi Susanti capped off 1995 on a high note at the SEA Games in Thailand. There, Susanti faced hometown favorite Somharuthai Jaroensiri. Susanti defeated Jaroensiri in straight sets, even winning the second game 11 to 0.
Between 1994 and 1995, Susi Susanti claimed more than ten titles. Those who need proof of how Susanti dominated 90s women’s badminton only need to look at her powerful run from 1994 to 1995.
Style of Play
Susi Susanti employed tactics uncommon in 90s badminton. Unlike her rivals Bang Soo-Hyun and Zhaoying Ye, Susi Susanti’s playing style erred more on the defensive than offensive. Her conservative playing style made her matches either long or decisive. In other words, any player who went against Susanti had to prepare for a battle of either endurance or athleticism.
Susi Susanti loved initiating rallies with backcourt clears. This tactic played to her advantage, especially during a time when you could only score after serving. Due to the flexibility and nimbleness she developed in childhood, she could retrieve shots that dropped at an odd angle — a skill not many badminton players possessed.
She didn’t develop her smash game until later in her career. Adding more depth to her arsenal, Susanti’s smashes easily deceived opponents, causing them to miss critical rallies.
Retirement and Induction Into the Badminton Hall of Fame
By 1997, Susi Susanti had already won 38 Grand Prix titles, five World Cups, and three SEA Games crowns. With an Olympic gold medal and World Championship under her belt, she had accomplished everything a player could want. Not long after the 1998 Singapore Open, Susi Susanti retired from international competition.
Six years after her retirement, the IBF inducted Susi Susanti into the Badminton Hall of Fame.
Her life and accomplishments were immortalized in a biographical film entitled “Susi Susanti: Love All.” The 2019 Indonesia Open doubled as the film’s promotional event.
Susi Susanti: Indonesia’s Finest Badminton Legend
Few players can hold a candle to what Susi Susanti had accomplished. She displayed more than skill and dominance. She exhibited consistency as seen in her winning streaks on the Grand Prix circuit. Susi Susanti will forever be the player who positioned Indonesia as a powerhouse nation for badminton.
In the film “Susi Susanti: Love All,” Indonesian actress Laura Basuki played Susi Susanti. In an interview with Badminton World Federation (BWF) TV, the actress described Susi Susanti as a legend of the sport and an icon in Indonesia.
Many will agree!
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