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In Depth - The Minions

In her first In Depth, Amanda Bloss ( profiles Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo & Marcus Fernaldi Gideon - what makes the Minions such an irresistible force on the court?

The dazzling play of Marcus and Kevin makes them hugely entertaining to watch and despite their nickname – The Minions – they are giants of the world game. Rivals must be playing at their peak to stand any chance of winning against them; they are the essence of what we love about badminton.   As a doubles partnership these two have enjoyed outstanding success - amassing more than 20 titles over the past four years - so it was a devastating blow to their fans when they crashed out of the Yonex All England in Round 1 this year, losing to the unseeded Chinese pair: Liu & Zhang. They are such spectacular players they have the power to write their own legend – will 2020 see them with Gold medals at the top of the podium in Birmingham?

Men’s Doubles is the turbo-charged version of the game; it demands power, skill and the ability to analyse and execute shots in a split second. Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo are the best in the world at this. Their reflexes are from a different dimension to most humans. Their stunning pace, athleticism and commitment to the cause mean they have been the world number 1s for more than 100 weeks.

These two play at an incredible high-speed tempo that is very hard for opponents to match. The sharpness of their reactions is second-to-none. This means that they are able to exert pressure all through a game. Even when they are losing, they can usually recapture the initiative because they respond so quickly and dictate the match. It is demonstrated very clearly when you watch them in a game against muscular, aggressive rivals – whatever the speed of the shuttle as it’s hit at them, they can handle it and send return it with interest. Their counter-attacking ability is the way they can dig out results even when they seem to be beaten. They are brilliant under pressure and can turn a game around at will; finding momentum and points when they need it most. The mark of truly great players is to win even when things don’t seem to be going their way. They will not accept defeat but keep fighting right to the end.

Kevin’s expertise at the net is what raises this partnership to sublime levels. His energy, and precision mean that he commands the forecourt. He is a solid wall and to break through him demands exceptional play. Even if the shuttle gets past him it is often set up for Marcus to smash: which he loves doing, again and again. Kevin is the youngest but it often seems that he is the senior partner. He exudes cheeky confidence; he is so relaxed about his incomparable skill that he can take the game wherever he pleases. There is often the feel of an exhibition match when the Minions are performing; it’s the sheer joy of the competition that brings this out.

Although Kevin is renowned for his flair, it’s Gideon’s work rate that builds the foundation for his partner’s success. He is the more muscular of the two; he has the power to smash weak returns, and to reach the unreachable. His clever play will wrong foot rivals at key moments in the game. It’s delightful to see him suddenly kill the pace on the shuttle or switch play cross court.  Better still is when he and his partner start pushing hard flat drives across the net. The velocity and precision they achieve when they work in tandem with this strategy can destroy the opposition. They feed off speed. Their unbreachable defence consumes their opponent’s self-belief.

At the heart of a successful doubles partnership we always look for two athletes who will work hard and sacrifice themselves for their partner. This alliance only started in 2015. These two spend hours on the practice courts; this is why they have such a great awareness of each other’s movement and strategies.   Success isn’t a fluke, it’s the result of sweat, toil and a wholehearted approach to their game. They are renowned as diligent and conscientious trainers. I think this is why they are adored by millions of fans.  

It’s well known that earlier in the year Gideon was being targeted in matches. The judgement that his defence was shaky probably owed more to a reluctance to engage with the unbeatable Kevin at the net rather than any major failing on the part of Marcus. However, it’s noticeable that over the past few months this side of his game has improved. Not just that, it would seem that his partner has been working on his rear court skills too. They don’t take anything for granted and are always striving to improve their play.

Can anyone stop them winning the title for a third time? Their supporters are desperate to see them atone for their catastrophic 2019 R1 exits in Birmingham and Basle. Gold at the Yonex All England in 2020 would be the perfect stepping stone to Gold in Tokyo and their legendary status would be in the record books for ever.

To see if they can go all the way next year at the YONEX All England Championships - secure your seats here.