With her unique, unfussy style and tremendous record over more than a decade, Liliyana Natsir is a standout figure of world badminton.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of her game was her dexterousness at the front court, allowing her partners (primarily Nova Widianto and then Tontowi Ahmad) the leeway they needed to exploit the openings she created.
Natsir’s first major title was the World Championships gold in 2005 with the technically-gifted Widianto. The duo had a string of successes, winning the World Cup and the Asian Championships the next year, another World Championships gold in 2007, before finishing runners-up at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Natsir was then paired with Tontowi Ahmad and the two quickly established a strong partnership. Despite the change in the styles of her partners – Ahmad wasn’t as technically versatile as Widianto but had a harder attacking game – Natsir adapted well. The ‘Owi-Butet’ partnership won bronze at the 2011 World Championships and followed that up with victories in 2013 (from two match points down in the final) and 2017. Gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016, besides several Superseries titles – including three straight All England crowns– established Natsir in the pantheon of greats.
Ahmad conceded that their accomplishments would not have come without Natsir’s constant urging to achieve excellence: “Liliyana is the complete player. She has great skills; her mindset is amazing and she has the right attitude to be a role model. She has been like a big sister to me on court.
“In my experience in this partnership, winning the All England title three consecutive years and the World Championships was due to Liliyana’s constant guidance. She kept me focused and never eased up. She wanted us to keep going strong and have a winning mentality. There were rarely times when we would have our guard down. There was no place for weakness in our partnership.”
Upon being formally recognised as a BWF Hall of Fame inductee at her favourite venue Istora Senayan, Natsir said:
“This is very meaningful to me. It means that I’m recognised not just in Indonesia but also in the eyes of the world. I hope this will motivate the juniors to bring more honour for Indonesia. I feel very happy and excited. This is a memorable event in my career.”
Gold: Rio 2016
Silver: Beijing 2008
Gold: 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017
Gold: 2012, 2013 2014