When Tontowi Ahmad learned he had been chosen to assume the place of one of the country’s greatest-ever mixed doubles shuttlers, the 23-year-old knew the distinction would come with big expectations.
The Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) on Wednesday announced it had split the world champion pair of Nova Widianto and Liliyana Natsir.
With Nova struggling for form, the PBSI picked Tontowi to take his place, hoping the young shuttler could end the country’s poor run of results in mixed doubles.
“I know I will always be compared to Nova. I know I have big shoes to fill, what with their accomplishments as world champions [2005 and 2007] and Olympic finalists [2008 silver medalists],” Tontowi told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
“But I’ve been given a responsibility that I’m more than willing to accept. It’s time for me to answer this challenge.”
Tontowi began his professional career in 2004 in men’s doubles. In 2005, however, he shifted to mixed doubles after getting a call-up from the national team.
“PBSI told me they needed somebody who could play mixed doubles. I told them that I had no problem with that, so I accepted the offer,” he said.
Tontowi played with a number of partners for four years, with his best achievement coming at the Vietnam Grand Prix, which he won in 2008 with Shendy Puspa Irawati and in 2009 with Richi Puspita Dili.
When Nova decided to step down and asked PBSI to find a new partner for Liliyana, Tontowi was one of the first candidates considered by the federation.
Tontowi was first paired with Liliyana at the Macau Grand Prix Gold in July, where the duo clinched the title. A week later, they almost claimed a second straight title at the Taiwan Grand Prix Gold, but fell in the final.
“They have shown they have the potential to become the country’s next mixed doubles stars,” their coach, Richard Mainaky, said after their victory in Macau.
While she looked forward to playing with her new teammate, Liliyana told the Globe she was “shocked” with the PBSI’s decision to end the Nova partnership.
“We were still planning to win a medal in the Asian Games [in November],” she said. “Technically, we’re still the best in the world but I know Nova has been struggling physically.
“With a new partner, the most important this is developing communication. I know he might hesitate to speak his mind sometimes, but I hope that doesn’t stop us from communicating well on the court.”