All good partnerships must come to an end.
When Indonesia’s Nova Widianto and Liliyana Natsir hit the court at the World Championships in Hyderabad, India, in August, it will likely be their final tournament as a mixed doubles pair.
As per Nova’s request, the Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) will split up the duo and seek a younger shuttler to be Liliyana’s new partner. Nova, 32, has repeatedly said he is too old to compete at the highest level and is contemplating retirement.
“I want [the PBSI] to give more chances to younger shuttlers and find a new partner for [Liliyana]. She’s still young and has a long career ahead of her,” Nova said on Thursday.
Lius Pongoh, PBSI’s head of athletes’ development, said Fran Kurniawan (24), Muhammad Rijal (23) and Tantowi Ahmad (21) were candidates to be Liliyana’s new partner.
However, mixed doubles coach Richard Mainaky wants Nova and 24-year-old Liliyana to play together until the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
“We’ll discuss this matter with both shuttlers and their coach after the world championship,” Lius told state-run news agency Antara.
Liliyana, who teamed up with Nova in 2004 to win 13 tournaments, said she knows her partnership will not last forever. “I’ve been preparing myself for that moment and I’m ready to be the mentor of my new partner, just like Nova did for me when we played together for the first time,” she said. “I hope that [the new partner] will be as good as Nova.”
Sentiment can wait, though, as there are still titles to be won. The duo is the current mixed doubles world champion, having won the title at the 2007 tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
They also won the 2005 world title in Anaheim, California.
“If this is our last performance together in the World Championship, I want us to retain our title, to do a hat trick,” Liliyana said.
Another title would put Nova and Liliyana in rarified company. Only one other pair — China’s women’s doubles team of Gao Ling and Huang Sui — has won three world championships in the same division.
Victory would also be a welcome relief from Indonesia’s title drought. Nova and Liliyana are the only Indonesian shuttlers to win a Super Series title this year, winning the mixed doubles at the Malaysia Open in January.
That slump saw South Korea’s Lee Yong Dae and Lee Hyo Jung supplant them as the world’s top-ranked team, but Liliyana is optimistic that the drought will end in Hyderabad.
“There is a month and a half of rest time in between the Indonesia Open and World Championship, so we’ll have sufficient recovery time to be back at our best,” she said.