In badminton, to favor any partner or circumstance is human. But to excel in all aspects of the game is divine. Someone who has done so with various partners internationally is none other than the legendary and all-versatile Tony Gunawan!
Tony Gunawan is one of the most extraordinary Indonesian men’s doubles players of all time. He’s an Olympic Gold medalist and the only player to win a gold medal for two countries at the World Championships. Tony Gunawan also holds two All-England titles with different partners. Also among Gunawan’s accolades are 36 International Badminton Federation (IBF) Grand Prix titles in both men’s and mixed doubles. Most of his victories were with his compatriots Candra Wijaya and Halim Haryanto. Tony Gunawan immigrated to the United States after an impressive win at the 2001 All-England Open. As a member of the U.S. Badminton Team, he played alongside Bob Malaythong, Howard Bach, and fellow Indonesian-American player Halim Haryanto. Tony Gunawan played his final match at the 2018 Yonex/K&D Graphics International Challenge before starting his career as a full-time coach.
Let’s spotlight one of the greats of Indonesian and American doubles badminton, Tony Gunawan!
Tony Gunawan was born on April 9, 1975, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. Tony Gunawan was the son of badminton enthusiasts. As a result, the young Tony Gunawan got an early start in badminton — much earlier than most greats.
In an interview with Badminton World Federation (BWF) TV, Tony Gunawan disclosed that he began playing badminton at the age of five. Under the influence of his parents, Tony Gunawan played badminton as a form of exercise and competitively, joining small competitions in East Java.
For much of his early youth, Tony Gunawan struggled with his weight. According to him, his “extra fluff” was the reason he was teased in many of the competitions he joined.
When he turned seven, he decided to take badminton more seriously to lose body fat. And like most people who take the sport more seriously, he did!
By the time he was nine years old, he had lost most of his body fat. The lightness he experienced enabled him to play more and train harder.
When Tony Gunawan turned 14, he nearly abandoned the sport. Gunawan’s badminton-enthusiast parents pushed him to excel at the sport. Feeling the pressure from his parents, Tony Gunawan entertained the idea of quitting.
Luckily, he discovered the purpose behind his parents’ “Spartan-esque” routine and continued training and playing. As a result of his discipline and fortitude, he won numerous youth tournaments in East Java.
It wasn’t long before Tony Gunawan discovered his niche in the sport — doubles. The switch from singles to doubles reignited the young Gunawan’s passion for the sport. By the time he was 16, he had played so well that the National Team asked him to join their ranks.
The National Team selection convinced Tony Gunawan that badminton would be his life’s calling.
Tony Gunawan’s Early Career
Tony Gunawan’s senior career didn’t get on the best of starts. Debuting as a senior, Gunawan played at the 1994 Asian Badminton Championships. Gunawan and his partner Rudy Wijaya bowed out early after losing to China’s Di Liu and Yushen Zheng.
Four months after the Asian Badminton Championships, Tony Gunawan competed at the Indonesia Open. He played alongside Rudy Wijaya, only to bow out early before reaching the quarterfinals.
1995 was a busy year in Tony Gunawan’s career but also one that didn’t start any different from his 1994 campaign. At the 1995 Indonesia Open, he stayed with Rudy Wijaya and made it as far as the semi-finals. In a match that could’ve gone either way, the pair lost to their compatriots Antonius Ariantho and Denny Kantono.
Tony Gunawan also made it to the semi-finals of the 1995 Singapore Open. Unfortunately, he and Rudy Wijaya once again lost at the hands of their compatriots, Rexy Mainaky and Ricky Subagdja.
Things didn’t look good for Tony Gunawan’s career until mid-1995. On August 27, 1995, Tony Gunawan and Rudy Wijaya played at the Russian Open. Tony Gunawan reached the finals for the first time in his senior career. Awaiting him and his partner were the Danish duo of Jon Holst-Christensen and Thomas Lund.
The skill of both pairs forced the match into a third game. Ultimately, the Danish team defeated Tony Gunawan and Rudy Wijaya by just three points, winning the tournament. Despite the loss, Gunawan’s advancement to the finals gave him his first podium finish as a senior player.
Tony Gunawan also won another silver medal at the 1995 Danish Open. Once again, Gunawan and his partner Rudy Wijaya faced John Holst-Christensen and Thomas Lund in the finals. The Danish pair got the best of Gunawan and Wijaya again, albeit narrowly.
The two pairs would face off multiple times throughout 1995 and early 1996. Holst Christensen and Thomas Lund always came out on top in all of their matches.
1997 to 1999: From Losses to Dominance
By the start of 1997, Tony Gunawan had amassed enough international match experience with several partners. The knowledge he had gained from a less-than-stellar start would propel him toward a career of dominance. And his dominant run in the men’s doubles division began at the 1997 French Open International.
For the 1997 French Open International, Tony Gunawan partnered with Victo Wibowo. The pair advanced to the finals, where they faced their compatriots Davis Efraim and Halim Haryanto.
Tony Gunawan and Victo Wibowo dominated the match, beating their opponents in straight sets. Winning 15-8 in the second game, Tony Gunawan won his first men’s doubles title!
The victory was precisely what Gunawan needed as he and Wibowo won another men’s doubles title at the 1997 Polish Open. In the finals, Tony Gunawan and Victo Wibowo faced off against Kok Kiong Seng and Gunawan’s old partner Rudy Wijaya. Gunawan and Wibowo dominated the entire match to win the tournament and their second International Series title.
Wibowo and Gunawan parted ways after the 1997 China Open. After the China Open, Tony Gunawan paired with Candra Wijaya. The pair opened their 1998 account at the 1998 Swedish Open. Kicking off the year with a bang, they were victorious in the finals against China’s Ming Yang and Jun Zhang.
After the Swedish Open, the Gunawan and Wijaya played with different partners for a while. At the 1998 Malaysia Open and Brunei Open, Tony Gunawan played alongside Halim Haryanto to win both tournaments.
Gunawan and Wijaya reunited for the 1998 Indonesia Open. Unfortunately, the pair fell short, losing their semi-final match against Rexy Mainaky and Ricky Subagdja.
However, Gunawan and Wijaya redeemed themselves 28 days later at the 1998 Hong Kong Open. At the tournament, they defeated Denmark’s Jens Eriksen and Jesper Larsen in the finals to win the tournament.
Gunawan and Wijaya didn’t stop there. Going into 1999, Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya set their sights on the 1998 All-England. In the finals, they defeated the South Korean duo of Lee Dong-Soo and Yoo Yong-Sung. The victory gave Gunawan his first All-England title — a title he would win a second time with Halim Haryanto in 2001.
2000: More Dominant Victories and the Olympics
Coming off dominant title wins at the 2000 Chinese Taipei Open, Japan Open, and Indonesia Open, Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya set their sights on the most significant event of 2000 — the Sydney Olympics.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya advanced to the round of 16 on a bye. After that, they eventually advanced to the semi-finals to face South Korea’s Ha Tae-Kwon and the legendary Kim Dong-Moon.
Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya dominated their South Korean opponents in straight sets to advance to the finals, where another South Korean duo awaited them. Standing between them and the Olympic gold were Lee Dong-Soo and Yoo Yong-Sung.
The finals match was tense as both teams won one game each. Forcing the match into a third game, the two teams fought tooth and nail for victory.
Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya prevailed as they won the third game, 15 to 7, winning Olympic gold. In an interview with BWF TV, Tony recollects his Olympic victory as one of the most memorable moments of his career.
Immigration to the U.S. and Making History at the World Championships
After an impressive outing at the Olympics, Tony Gunawan played with several other partners, namely Halim Haryanto and Rexy Mainaky.
With Mainaky, Tony Gunawan won the 2000 Asia Badminton Championships two months after the 2000 Olympics. In 2001, Tony Gunawan won the All-England Open with Halim Haryanto, snatching his second All-England title.
After the All-England, Gunawan and Haryanto set their sights on the 2001 Badminton World Championships in Seville, Spain. At the 2001 World Championships, Gunawan and Haryanto defeated most of their opponents in straight sets.
The Indonesian pair advanced to the finals and faced Lee Dong-Soo and Kim Dong-Moon in their second clash since the 2000 Olympics.
Tony Gunawan and Halim Haryanto easily defeated their South Korean opponents. The victory gave them their first World Championship title.
Shortly after the World Championships, Tony Gunawan received offers to coach in the United States. Recognizing the opportunity, Tony Gunawan immigrated to the U.S.
In 2002, Tony Gunawan began coaching the U.S. National Badminton Team in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. After the 2004 Olympics, a player resigned, leaving one of the American players without a partner for the 2005 World Championships.
The player left partnerless was Howard Bach. With nobody else qualified to partner with the skilled American doubles specialist, Tony Gunawan saw no alternative but to return to action.
Now representing the U.S., Tony Gunawan played at the 2005 World Championships with his new partner. Fueled by a renewed drive for competition, Tony Gunawan advanced with Howard Bach to the finals.
As fate would have it, Tony Gunawan would come face to face with his old partner, Candra Wijaya. Gunawan and Bach faced Candra Wijaya and Sigit Budiarto in a match that went the distance.
Gunawan and Bach won the first game 15 to 11. Despite a confident start in the second game, Gunawan and Bach weren’t victorious in the second game as Budiarto and Wijaya came from behind to win 15 to 10.
The third game was in the balance. As both teams scored rally after rally, Tony Gunawan and Howard Bach emerged victorious.
The win not only gave Tony Gunawan his second World Championship title. Tony Gunawan made history after winning the title as an Indonesian and American citizen.
To date, he’s the only player to win the World Championships representing two countries. He’s also famous for winning the first-ever World Championship title for the U.S.
Tony Gunawan’s U.S. Badminton Career
From 2002 to his final match in 2018, Tony Gunawan embarked on a successful career. Between 2002 and 2012, he won five titles as a mixed doubles badminton player. As a mixed doubles player, he paired with Mesinee Mangkalakiri and Etty Tantri, who Tony Gunawan later married.
In the mixed doubles division, he dominated 16 IBF Grand Prix opens between 2002 and 2009. Tony Gunawan won the U.S. Open four years in a row from 2003 to 2006. Also, he won these three editions with Howard Bach, Bob Malaythong, and longtime partner Halim Haryanto.
A shift in the scoring system after 2006 did little to affect Tony Gunawan’s prowess on the court. Between 2007 and 2018, Tony Gunawan chalked up numerous impressive victories at various high-level tournaments, including the 2007 Open Japan Super Series.
Tony Gunawan also put out a stellar title-winning performance at the 2011 Peru International Open Championships and its edition in 2012. Even nearing the twilight of his career, Gunawan followed up these victories with impressive medal hauls at the 2015 BWF World Senior Championships and the 2017 Yonex/K&D Graphics International Series.
Retirement and Life After Badminton
Tony Gunawan played his last match at the 2018 Yonex/K&D Graphics International Challenge. Losing in the quarterfinals, Tony Gunawan called time on a career that spanned more than two decades.
Years after retiring, he remains involved with badminton as a full-time coach. Tony Gunawan disclosed in an interview that despite the difficult transition from competitor to coach, he was no stranger to the rewards of his new job.
Gunawan is still married with two sons and resides in Orange County, California.
Tony Gunawan: A Badminton Player Who Won It All and Saw It All
“Storied” is a word that doesn’t do Tony Gunawan’s career any justice. But I’ll use it anyway. Across different partners and scoring systems, Tony Gunawan has achieved everything there is to accomplish in doubles badminton. He’s also the only person to have achieved much representing two countries.
There’s no doubt that Tony Gunawan’s storied career is worthy of anyone’s admiration and emulation!
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