Former shuttler Uday Pawar served Indian men’s badminton with distinction in both singles and doubles, although doubles panned out to be his forte during his playing days. Born and brought up in Lonavala, Uday’s sporting prowess came to the fore very early during his school days at Don Bosco, where he excelled at more than one sport and even captained his school team in sports like badminton, cricket and table tennis.
Of course, sports runs in the Pawar family – Uday’s father, the late PD Pawar was a decent cricketer. “My father played for the Combined Universities cricket team and not just that, he was also a sports buff who used to organise state-level tournaments in Lonavala every year,” Uday recalls.
Badminton went on to become Uday’s biggest passion when he won a tournament in Lonavala. “I was only 10, and I still have vivid memories of how I defeated a good player from Mumbai and from there on I knew I wanted to pursue badminton,” Uday relives his early days in badminton.
Uday’s son, Anand Pawar was a top-level singles player, while Uday’swife Sujata is also a former international shuttler. Uday rose through the ranks and at the age of 13. He was playing outside Lonavala for the first time and even performed well that led to his selection at the Pune district team and for Maharashtra.
It was not long that his liking for doubles became more crystal clear – he teamed up with Sanjay Sharma and won his first National Junior Doubles crown. Uday later won three more Junior National Doubles titles with his friend Madhur Bezbora and even the mixed doubles title (the event was first introduced in the Juniors) with Manik Paranjpe. However, in singles, he lost two National Junior finals to the legendary Syed Modi.
Uday stepped into the senior circuit in 1976 and made his first Senior Nationals debut a memorable one – he upset four seeded players and reached the finals at the age of 17 at Jalandhar, where he lost to Prakash Padukone in a tight game. It was in this event, his wife Sujata became the National Junior Champion.
“Sujata won the Junior singles title beating Amia Ghia, but finished runners-up in the Senior final, losing against the same opponent. During those days, both the Junior and Senior Nationals were held simultaneously,” Uday reminisces with a glint of pride.
His splendid debut performance in the Senior Nationals in 1976 attracted the attention of the selectors, as he was selected to represent India in the first-ever World Championship held in Malmo, Sweden. “I lost in the first round in three games, but the sheer experience of representing the country in such a prestigious event was an honour and a big boost for my badminton career,” he says.
In fact, Uday entered the Senior Nationals final one more time but again finished runners-up losing to Syed Modi – one may recall Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi were the country’s top shuttlers during that period.
Uday is candid enough to admit playing both singles and doubles enhanced his workload and prevented him from achieving more in singles. “In hindsight, I feel that I should have concentrated on either singles or doubles, as playing in two events invariably put me at a distinct disadvantage against players like Prakash and Modi, who played only singles. My workload used to be double and that means I was never fresh by the time I reached the finals.”
Drawing inspiration from his playing days, Uday has a piece of advice for youngsters.
Youngsters should play both singles and doubles till they are 17-18 and then they should focus on specialising in either singles or doubles
He feels that playing against Prakash Padukone was a great thing for him. He recalls, “I could never beat Prakash – he was too good, but I consider myself lucky to have partnered Prakash in doubles during Thomas Cup among other team events. I learnt a lot of my badminton from Prakash when we partnered each other in doubles and I consider him as one of the most intelligent and clever players produced by India. In fact, we all (his contemporaries) still call him “BOSS” with respect and affection.”
Uday considers his 1986 Seoul Asian Games men’s team event bronze medal match as his most cherished. “I still remember we got the better of the then world no. 5 Japanese pair of Matsura & Matsuno to win the bronze medal,” he gushes.
He was an integral part of the Indian team that qualified for the Thomas Cup finals in 1978 and 1989. On the singles front, Uday had defeated Indonesia’s Icuk Sugiarto (he was the world champion in 1983) as well as beating Kevin Jolly, who was the then European champion.
Uday keeps himself busy operating the Uday Pawar Badminton Academy at the Goregaon Sports Club in Mumbai. The former international is optimistic about Indian badminton. “I believe our shuttlers are doing well over the years, although the first half of 2019 hasn’t gone as per expectations. But with two new Korean coaches taking charge, I’m sure our shuttlers will fire ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”