No doubt we have a lot of talent, we just need better planning — Prakash Padukone
Badminton legend Prakash Padukone shares his memories from the hallowed All England Open win in 1980 and speaks about the current crop of Indian badminton.
Badminton's most hallowed and prestigious tournament the All England Open Badminton Championships to kickstart on Wednesday with India's bests vying for the top spots.
Indian shuttlers have seen limited success in the tournament, which is often referred to as the 'Wimbledon of Badminton'. It was in the year 1980, an Indian first conquered the title when Prakash Padukone emerged as the champion in the men's singles event, defeating one of the best players of the era Liem Swie King. Till date, the feat could be emulated just once by Gopichand in 2001. Though Indian badminton saw a resurgence post-2010, when our players consistently started ranking in the top 10 of the world, another Indian All England champion is yet to be found.
The Bridge spoke to the legendary Prakash Padukone ahead of this year's tournament who shared his fond memories of the four-decade-old pathbreaking achievement. "My All England Open win in 1980 would always be cherished by me because it is not just the highlight of my career but it is the highlight of Indian badminton. We went through a huge change after I won the tournament and we became a force to reckon with. After I retired, it took a long time - 21 years for Gopichand to again make it possible. But it was only around 2012, Indian badminton players started consistently showing results," said Padukone.
Padukone rode on a stupendous form that year when he successively won the Denmark Open and the Swedish Open in the two weeks prior to arriving in London. Winning the All England, however, was a daunting challenge which exactly he did by silencing his arch-rival Liem Swie King of Indonesia, who was the defending champion for the previous two years, and as the world No.1, he was the clear favourite to win a hat-trick. Padukone adds, "I have sweet memories of the All England because nobody expected an Indian would do so in such a physically demanding sport like badminton. I didn't have someone whom I could emulate so the onus was upon me to make a breakthrough. I feel happy about the fact of starting this badminton revolution which has now taken off and has put India to a different level."
In 1994, Prakash Padukone and Dronacharya awardee ex-India coach Vimal Kumar opened the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bengaluru, which is still one of India's leading badminton coaching academies. Not only it has groomed players of international repute like Arjuna Awardees and Commonwealth Games medallists, but it has also focused on providing long-term badminton coaching for elite players.
Talking about the present state of Indian badminton, Padukone pointed out that there's no doubt the crop today have been consistently playing well but they also need to choose their fights wisely. "I think there is no doubt that we have a lot of talent, we just need better planning. The players need to choose the tournaments more carefully. I do agree that the international rankings are important, but more than that, one should focus on winning big tournaments like the All England Open, World Championships, and the Olympics. It is not impossible for us now that you know Sindhu is a world champion. Even if the ranking goes down a bit during its course, it won't be that bad. If one plans like his/her tournaments more carefully, then we will see better results," says a hopeful Padukone.
The 65-year-old further points out that the Badminton Association of India still has a lot of potentials to work upon that can further yield major success for India. "I only wish that the National Federation can be a little more active and take some right decisions so that the momentum is maintained and not lost. I think in the last one or two years, there has been a little lull in the activities and the initiatives of the association. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) needs to plan and have a vision for the future because there's a lot of talent that needs to be channelised in the right way."
Focussing on the training of doubles players, regular conducting programmes in u-18 and u-20 categories, tapping the right talent in second-tier cities and emulating an elaborate plan like the BCCI could be some of the key highlights BAI could adopt he believes.
While the Race to the Olympics is closing in with, Padukone is hopeful that PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have the mettle to win medals in the Game, along with the top men's singles shuttlers. He highly praises the Indian men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, whom he believes would be the surprise package. "I think, badminton in India never had a better time than this. Players who are talented, have the willingness to work hard, should also put in the effort required to reach the top, there are many organisations and academies who are willing to help them. All they have to do is to take the fullest of opportunities. Even funding is also not a problem. We should be inspired by bigger dreams. We should learn from the likes of Roger Federer, who never settled after winning a Wimbledon. They should try to be consistent enough like him to rule the roost for years and set big milestones. We should not settle with just success but aim for holding on to that years after years," he concludes.