For a partnership that’s so new, Tan Boon Heong and Hendra Setiawan have attracted immense attention and expectations.
It’s not just that the Malaysia-Indonesia combination is a trans-national partnership, which is still rare at the elite level; both are accomplished veterans and former world No.1s, and they are expected to complement each other’s styles and abilities.
Following the end of their campaign in Rio (Tan with Koo Kien Keat and Setiawan with Mohammad Ahsan), the two decided to try their luck together.
“After the Olympics, I was thinking of retiring from the Indonesian team. He spoke to me but I needed time, maybe about a month to think about it. After the Korea Open I decided I wanted to partner Boon Heong,” says Setiawan.
The partnership began on a bright note, with a quarter-final performance at the Syed Modi International in India. They fell in the early rounds in their next three tournaments; both Tan and Setiawan know they have to give themselves time to settle in.
“On paper, ours is a strong partnership,” says Tan. “But in doubles, combining well is very important. Both of us were worried about our partnership and the level of our badminton. So it was good that in India we were able to gauge the standard of our game.
“We have to discuss a lot in regard to our combination. The Malaysian and Indonesian styles are almost similar. Hendra has his strong points and I too have mine.”
One of the problems that partners from different countries typically face is the limited opportunity to train together. Tan states it will be less of a challenge in their case since their home cities aren’t too distant.
“For now, we don’t have much time to train because we’re playing in several tournaments as we want to try to qualify for the World Championships. But when we have time, we will see our schedule like who is available to be in Indonesia or in Kuala Lumpur for training. Indonesia and Malaysia are not far apart. So it is quite okay for us.”
Tan admits that qualifying for the upcoming TOTAL BWF World Championships in Glasgow will be a difficult task, considering that the qualifying deadline is fast approaching.
“I feel that it might be a bit rushed for us to try to qualify for the World Championships,” says Tan. “But we will try our best because it is in our plan to do so. We will participate in as many tournaments as we can. We hope we get good draws and can perform well as we only have a few months left.”
Aware of fans’ expectations on the new pair, Setiawan sounds a note of caution.
“The standard of all the top pairs in Men’s Doubles is almost equal. Earlier, there were four to five pairs that were very strong but nowadays all of them are equally strong. For 2017 we hope we can break into the top 10. As for the World Championships we will try our best.”
Whether or not they qualify for the World Championships, their partnership is likely to be eventful, and one that opponents will be wary of.
Catch Tan Boon Heong and Hendra Setiawan on Badminton Unlimited: