Home india-news From HT Archives: When Padukone gave India a grand badminton boost | Latest News India

From HT Archives: When Padukone gave India a grand badminton boost | Latest News India

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From HT Archives: When Padukone gave India a grand badminton boost | Latest News India

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In the list of great Indian sporting achievements, March 23, 1980 will be inscribed in golden letters. That was the day when a player who, as a 16-year-old, had captivated Indian badminton fans by winning the junior and senior national titles in Madras (now Chennai), fulfilled his great promise and helped the country realise a dream.

Prakash Padukone was given a rousing welcome on his arrival at Bangalore on March 28, 1980 after his victory in the All-England Championship. (THE HINDU ARCHIVES)
Prakash Padukone was given a rousing welcome on his arrival at Bangalore on March 28, 1980 after his victory in the All-England Championship. (THE HINDU ARCHIVES)

At the Wembley Arena in London, Prakash Padukone became India’s first great champion at global level, winning the prestigious All England title. The 24-year-old defeated top-seed and defending champion Liem Swie King 15-3 15-10 in the final, crushing the Indonesian’s hopes of completing a hat-trick of titles.

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The unassuming bank officer from Karnataka completed a sensational run without dropping a game in the final. He achieved a grand slam, having won the Danish and Swedish Opens in the build-up to this tournament, topping off a glorious run that started when he won Gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. The subsequent rise to world No.1 made his status official.

Padukone’s victory was a pioneering effort. Badminton was born in India and hence very popular with the country’s sports fans, and All England, still as popular as ever, was considered the unofficial world championships until the game’s global body started its tournament in 1977. For Indians, winning it was akin to victory at Wimbledon, where their best was Ramanathan Krishnan reaching the semi-finals.

India had come closest to winning the All-England title in 1947, when Prakash Nath lost in the final in the year the tournament resumed after a break forced by World War II.

Back to 1980. Padukone’s first victory over Liem in five meetings came in grand fashion. He has been justifiably hailed a touch artiste — his net deception is believed to be unmatched in Indian badminton to this day — and his Indonesian rival had no answer to his flicks and net dribbles.

According to reports of the match, King made many unforced errors and India’s nine-time national champion controlled the match. The Indonesian had trouble finding his range right from the start and the efforts flowed from his racket under the pressure of the relentlessly consistent Padukone.

The Indonesian, who would later inspire badminton players to adopt a power game, saw his serve broken straightaway. Padukone reeled off 10 consecutive points before Liem found a way to slow down the progress. But he could not stop Padukone for easing to the opening game.

In the second game, Liem showed more resistance. There were some magnificent rallies and the Indonesian led 4-3, but Padukone seized control and raced to 10-4. Liem chipped away at the lead to recover to 10-13, but that was as close as he got. Padukone reached match point with an immaculate drop shot off the net cord, winning the match with another drop shot that Liem knocked it up for the Indian player to kill.

“It feels great, this has been one of my life’s ambitions,” Padukone said after the victory. “Now I will try for the world title in Jakarta in May.” (He won bronze in Copenhagen 1983).

“I felt competent all the way through. I knew he was quicker, but I can control the shuttle better and tried successfully to slow him down. My flicks from the net were slightly deceptive and I noticed that his backhand strokes were limited,” he added. “It was easier than I thought. I just tried to keep the shuttle in and he made all the mistakes.”

A dejected Liem only said: “I just want to rest.”

Padukone didn’t drop a game in the tournament. He started off with a 15-7, 15-12 win over Suffian Abu Bakr of Malaysia and beat Wirawan Hadiyanto (Indonesia) 15-10, 15-10 next. In the quarter-finals, he beat Svend Pri of Denmark 15-4, 15-4 a then Morten Frost in the semi-finals, 15-8, 15-10.

He would also reach the final in 1981, but Liem would win that one 11-15, 15-4, 15-6, successfully drawing Padukone into long rallies and gradually tiring him out in the end.

It would take 20 years before another Indian would win the All-England title. Pullela Gopichand wasn’t a favourite when he went all the way in 2001. He beat then world No.1 Peter Gade of Denmark in the semi-finals and Chen Hong of China in the final.

This year, the tournament now called the All-England Open and staged in Birmingham since 1994, completed its 125th edition.


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