Indonesia rivals other badminton powerhouses like China in terms of its talent pool. Even one look at Indonesia’s past superstars reveals a country with a natural hand and love for the sport. The likes of Taufik Hidayat prove Indonesia’s superiority in the singles division, and as for the doubles events, one badminton player stands out: Tontowi Ahmad.
Tontowi Ahmad was born on July 18, 1987, and calls Central Java home. He’s a doubles badminton player who specializes in mixed doubles. He’s famous for his mixed doubles victories and titles with Liliyana Natsir. With Natsir, Tontowi Ahmad won 16 Super Series titles and eight Grand Prix titles. Tontowi Ahmad is also an Olympic gold medalist with Liliyana Natsir, winning gold in the Rio Olympics. Tontowi Ahmad boasts two Badminton World Championship titles, as well as gold medals in the South East Asian Games and Asian Championships. He retired in May 2020, leaving behind an illustrious career that any doubles player would want to have.
A press release by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) described Tontowi Ahmad as a badminton player who impacted the sport. Read on to learn more about how Tontowi Ahmad left a lasting mark on Indonesian badminton!
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Early Life and Introduction to Badminton
Tonotwi Ahmad was born in Banyumas, Central Java. Born to a Muslim family, he grew up prayerful and was influenced heavily by his father. According to Tontowi Ahmad, his father was instrumental in his life and his introduction to badminton.
With the encouragement of his father, Tontowi Ahmad tried badminton when he turned eight. Early on, the young Tontowi Ahmad showed promise and skill. When Ahmad reached his teen years, he began playing recreationally and competitively.
Ready to take on other players outside his hometown, Ahmad made his junior debut in 2004.
Tontowi Ahmad’s Junior Career
Ahmad had his first competition in 2004 at the Indonesia Open. The 2004 Indonesia Open was in Jakarta, not far from his hometown. Ahmad competed in the men’s doubles event but lost early. Despite the loss, the experience was formative as it prepared Tontowi Ahmad for more tournaments in 2005.
Tontowi Ahmad began 2005 with an appearance at the Asian Junior Championships. He competed in the boy’s doubles event as part of the Indonesian team, winning bronze.
Two months after the 2005 Asian Junior Championships, Tontowi Ahmad tried his luck again at the 2005 Indonesia Open. Like his earlier result in the past tournament, he failed to get past the qualifying rounds.
He began tasting success in 2006. After an improved result at the 2006 Indonesia Open, he competed at the 2006 Surabaya Satellite in the mixed doubles event. He partnered with CJ Yulianti, reaching the semifinals of the tournament.
Unfortunately, the pair lost to Enny Widowati and Bambang Suprianto. Despite the loss, Ahmad and Yulianti took home the bronze medal. It was Tontowi Ahmad’s first medal as a badminton player.
Ahmad and Yulianti went on to compete at the 2006 Malaysia Satellite. Advancing to the finals, Tontowi Ahmad and CJ Yulianti faced Shin Baek Cheol and Kim Min Jung. Ahmad and Yulianti lost to their South Korean opponents, but they still won silver in the tournament. At the start of 2007, Tontowi Ahmad continued to perform well, winning silver at the Vietnam International Challenge and 2007 Asian Satellite.
Tontowi Ahmad’s first gold medal came at the end of 2008. On December 7, 2008, Tontowi Ahmad and Shendy Puspa Irawati competed in the mixed doubles event of the Vietnam Grand Prix. The pair reached the finals to face Singapore’s Riky Widianto and Yu Yan Vanessa Neo.
Winning on a bye with his partner, Tontowi Ahmad won his first gold medal at an international event.
Professional Senior Debut and Partnership with Liliyana Natsir
Tontowi Ahmad made his international debut as a senior player in 2010. His first tournament as a senior player was the 2010 Asian Championships. He played in the mixed doubles event, pairing with Greysia Polii. While the pair played impressively, they went no further than the quarterfinals. There, the pair suffered defeat at the hands of South Korea’s Yoo Yeon-Seong and Kim Min-Jung.
Tontowi Ahmad and Greysia Polii competed together for two more tournaments after the Asian Championships. They played at the 2010 Singapore Open and 2010 Indonesia Open.
Tontowi Ahmad had yet to win a medal as a senior professional badminton player. To succeed, Tontowi Ahmad needed a skilled and experienced partner. Luckily, it was in his first year as a senior player that he would meet Liliyana Natsir — already an experienced player at the time of their encounter.
The newly formed Indonesian duo made their debut at the 2010 Macau Open. Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir advanced to the finals to face their compatriots, Hendra Gunawan and Vita Marissa.
As early as the first game, the synergy between Ahmad and Natsir was apparent on the court. Their combination of skills also carried Ahmad and Natsir past the second game, allowing them to win their first Grand Prix title.
The pair didn’t stop there as Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir went on to compete at the 2010 Indonesia Grand Prix Gold. Advancing again to the finals, Ahmad and Natsir faced Markis Kido and Lita Nurlita. Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir defeated their compatriots in straight sets, winning their second Grand Prix title for 2010.
Olympic Performances and Success
Tontowi Ahmad, along with Liliyana Natsir, represented Indonesia twice in the Olympics. Their first outing at the Olympics was in 2012, and they returned four years later at the Rio Olympics.
2012 London Olympics
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir amassed enough performances to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. At the 2012 London Olympics, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir bested pairs from India, Denmark, and South Korea in their group. Their dominant performances in Group C enabled them to advance to the quarterfinals.
Awaiting them in the quarterfinals were Germany’s Michael Fuchs and Birgit Overzier. Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir dominated their German opponents in straight sets, allowing them to advance to the semis.
In the semifinals, they faced the in-form and formidable pair of Xu Chen and Ma Jin. The two teams battled it out, taking the match into a third game. In the third game, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir tasted defeat.
Their semifinal defeat signaled the end of their 2012 Olympic medal quest.
2016 Rio Olympics: A Glorious Return
Seeking redemption for their previous Olympic loss, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir returned to the 2016 Rio Olympics. The sense of urgency and the hunger for Olympic gold were apparent in the pair as they dominated all of their opponents in straight matches.
With their dominant performance, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir advanced to the finals. In the finals, they faced Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying.
Unwilling to let the Olympic gold medal slip past their fingers, Ahmad and Natsir made short work of their Malaysian opponents. Ahmad and Natsir dominated the first game, winning 21 – 14. In the second game, Tontowi Ahmad delivered the crucial drop shot that caused the Malaysian team to hit the shuttlecock towards the net. With this error on their opponents’ front, they defeated their opponents in the second game by an even wider margin than the first, at 21 – 12.
The Indonesian pair erupted in jubilation as they won the final. By winning the mixed doubles event at the Rio Olympics, Tontowi Ahmad redeemed himself for the 2012 loss and made his Indonesian fans proud.
In a 2020 interview with BWF TV, Tontowi Ahmad mentioned the 2016 Olympics as one of the most memorable victories of his career. According to Tontowi Ahmad, what made it special was the subpar run of form in 2015 leading up to the Rio Olympics. He said that he and his partner, Liliyana Natsir, were over the moon when their sacrifices culminated in an Olympic gold medal.
Tontowi Ahmad: World Champion
The Olympics are a highlight for any badminton player, especially those who walk away from the event with a gold medal. However, for Tontowi Ahmad, he points to his 2013 World Championship victory as the high point of his athletic career.
Before his 2013 BWF World Championship victory, Tontowi Ahmad already won bronze in 2011. At the 2011 BWF World Championships in London, he and Liliyana Natsir defeated Denmark’s Joachim Fischer Nielsen and Christinna Pedersen to advance to the semifinals. Unfortunately, Ahmad and Natsir lost in the semis to Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier. Nevertheless, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir walked away with a bronze medal.
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir went back to the drawing board and returned in 2013. The pair were riding the momentum of their title win at the 2013 Singapore Open.
At the 2013 BWF World Championships, they played in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tianhe Sports Center in Guangzhou, China.
Unlike their last outing in the World Championships, Ahmad and Natsir advanced to the finals in 2013. In the finals, they faced the formidable duo of Xu Chen and Ma Jin. The finals match went the distance as both teams forced the match into a third game.
In the third game, both teams tied at 20 points each, so a two-point lead became necessary to win the game and the match. In the 74th minute, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir scored the crucial 22nd point, winning the match and their first BWF World Championship title!
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir won the World Championship again at the 2017 BWF World Championships, where they faced China’s Zheng Si Wei and Chen Qing Chen in the finals.
In a match that lasted nearly an hour, the two teams were neck and neck, forcing the match into a third game. Ahmad and Natsir claimed the third game, beating their opponents 21 – 15. The victory gave Tontowi Ahmad and his partner their second BWF World Championship title.
All England Hat-Trick Success
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir also cemented their status as badminton greats by winning the All England three years in a row. They won the prestigious open championship first in 2012, and then successfully defended their title in 2013 and 2014.
2012 All England: A Flying Start for Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir
The 2012 All England Open Badminton Championship was Ahmad and Natsir’s first outing at the oldest open championship in badminton. The Indonesian duo faced some of the best pairs in the world. Qualifying past the round of 32, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir advanced to the finals as they dominated their opponents at the tournament.
They battled Denmark’s Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Ryter Juhl. Ahmad and Natsir defeated their Danish opponents in straight sets, winning their first All England title.
2013 All England
The Indonesian duo returned to defend their mixed doubles titles at the 2013 All England Open Badminton Championship. In the semifinals, they faced and defeated their compatriots, Markis Kido and Pia Zebadiah Bernadet. The match went to a third game that was won by Ahmad and Natsir by a narrow margin.
Advancing to the finals, the Indonesian duo faced one of the most feared pairings in mixed doubles badminton — Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei. Not only were Ahmad and Natsir facing a formidable mixed duo, but they were facing a pair who was ranked number one at the time.
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir made history as they defeated the Chinese juggernauts in straight sets. By beating the seemingly-invincible pair of Zhang and Zhao, Ahmad and Natsir chalked up their second All England title.
2014 All England
At the 2014 All England Open Badminton Championships, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir returned to defend their mixed doubles crown. In the finals, they faced their past opponents, Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei.
With a victory over the Chinese pair, Ahmad and Natsir were the favorites to win the match. Ahmad and Natsir defeated their opponents in the same fashion they did in the 2013 All England.
Defeating their opponents, Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir did more than defend their titles: they completed their All England Open hat-trick, which is a feat that not many mixed doubles pairs had achieved before them.
Tontowi Ahmad announced his retirement on his social media on May 18, 2020, much to the shock of many fans and players.
In an interview with BWF TV, Tontowi Ahmad expressed his fulfillment in his career and accomplishments. He was also touched by the overwhelming appreciation and well-wishes of his fans.
Tontowi Ahmad: A Legendary and Decorated Indonesian Mixed Doubles Badminton Player
Olympian, two-time World Champion, and three-time All England winner, Tontowi Ahmad is one of Indonesia’s most decorated badminton players. Through his skillful performances and titles, he gave Indonesian fans a player to be proud of.
Without a doubt, Tontowi Ahmad is a legend to his fans in Indonesia and the rest of the world.
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