It is an indisputable fact that Indian badminton was given a new dimension first when the legendary Prakash Padukone won the prestigious All-England championship in 1980 and then by the current chief national coach P. Gopi Chand, who emerged champion in 2001. They still remain the only two Indians to have won this mega event. It is also a gentle reminder that it is time for the big guns of world badminton like P. V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth to have a go at the title.
As another edition is set to unfold, here’s how Gopi looks at the championship:
Well, it continues to be one of the top three most prestigious events after the Olympics and the World championships. Though some sheen might have been lost because of the number of Super Series through the year, it has retained its special aura amongst the players.
More so for the Indians, the All-England event has a unique following and charm. The fact that people keep remembering my win in 2001 makes me feel proud.
In the 80s and 90s when All-England was the biggest of all the events, there was that must-win feeling amongst the big names of that era which also saw many of them compete in it regularly.
I don’t think going into the All-England requires a different kind of mental framework or game preparation now given the number of times the players run into each other so frequently in the Majors.
Definitely, that urge to win might just actually spur someone to give off his or her best even though it also means some kind of pressure in terms of expectations from within.
But, I still feel most of the players treat it like any other Super Series or a World Tour event given the number of such tournaments scheduled in a calendar year. For, each of such events presents a different kind of challenge and I am sure the current crop of Indian shuttlers are capable of rising to the occasion.
Yes, when I look back at those winning moments in 2001, I still believe it to be the defining moment of my career. All the recognition, name and fame I got subsequently was because of that great triumph at the hallowed venue.
If I were to pick one major difference in the game compared to my days when I won the title, is that it has become much faster. There is also the huge impact that the support staff have had on the players. I don’t think any player is under-prepared as such nowadays.
Winning the All-England championship is still one of the most cherished dreams of any badminton player. It has a rich history of its own! With BWF making it mandatory for the players to compete in a minimum number of Tour events in a calendar year, All-England surely figures as one of the preferred destinations for many champion shuttlers.
Well, the new service rule is going to be a novelty this time around in All-England where it will be experimented with for the first time. I can say it will be more tough on the doubles combinations than on the singles players. We have requisitioned the services of renowned badminton referee Vemuri Sudhakar — he has officiated in three Olympics — to help us in the training sessions. I am confident that it should not be a problem as we will have a good four weeks of training before the big event with Saina and Srikanth looking good and Sindhu recovering from injury-blues.
Like all Indians, I don’t want too long a wait to see another Indian win the All-England title. Hope we will soon have a new champion from India there.
As told to V. V. Subrahmanyam
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