On Sunday, India dethroned the defending champion and 14-time winner Indonesia with a commanding 3-0 victory in the summit battle of the Thomas Cup final, thus writing a historic victory.
“I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, not at least in the next 8-10 years. I think we’ve really arrived and India will be seen as a superpower and a threat from now on. There will be a big boost in the sport,” Padukone, India’s first All England Champion in 1980, told PTI during an exclusive interaction.
Padukone has no doubt that this Indian badminton has reached the turning point and there is a need to capitalize on and build on this amazing success.
“It was a complete team effort and a compelling win and a momentous event. I think it’s just as great or maybe bigger than the individual success. We needed that and I think our moment has really come. Now there is no turning back and it’s time to capitalize on it.”
Padukone, who led India to the semi-finals of the 1979 edition of the Thomas Cup, believes this victory will have a major impact on the sport in the country and as a nation it is of the utmost importance that we don’t let the momentum go.
“It will make it more popular, spark more growth in the sport, more youth will take it up, more corporate and government support will come, and overall the standard should improve and the trend should be upward,” he said.
For the touch artist of yore, the next decade will be very important to carry the momentum.
“The responsibility lies with the federations and also with the state federations to stop this opportunity and see how they can benefit from it over the next 5 to 10 years. It is important to attract more people to the sport and to develop innovative ideas. ”
In Pictures: India stuns Indonesia to win first Thomas Cup title
India’s men’s badminton team caused a major upset when they beat 14-time champions Indonesia 3-0 in Sunday’s final to win their first Thomas Cup title. (PTI photo)
Padukone wants a blueprint, a vision document that shows the way forward.
“It will give them (the association) more responsibility, so they have to have a vision, have a plan. Maybe more regional centers, better infrastructure, business support and don’t miss this opportunity. We really need to plan 5 to 10 years ahead.”
Padukone believes the emergence of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty is one of the main reasons behind India’s Thomas Cup victory.
“Doubles has always been our weakness but now we have a doubles pair that can beat anyone in the world. There used to be too much pressure on singles but now they were able to play freely and it showed on the pitch,” he said .
“When Lakshya Sen didn’t win, India still won because of the doubles. They are an established couple and that has given the team a good balance. Everything came together this time.”
Padukone, who has produced many players after founding his academy (PPBA) in Bangalore in 1994, believes many young players will win doubles after watching Satwik and Chirag at the Thomas Cup.
“This title will help young players learn doubles as a specialized sport. They used to try singles and then switched to doubles. But the way Satwik-Chirag performs this win will do wonders for Indian badminton and the focus will now be on the doubles.
“It will come into its own in terms of prize money, recognition and selection, which is a great sign.
Slightly worrying signs for women’s badminton
The 66-year-old, who was world No. 1 in 1980, feels in safe hands with the men’s team but worries about the lack of depth in women’s badminton.
“At least we have depth in the men’s team. I mean, Lakshya is still young, few players like Mithun, Kiran are doing well and there are also few from Gopichand academy. Srikanth and Prannoy are a bit older but at least they will be there when we defend him in two years so we have good bench strength in the men’s division,” he said.
“But it’s on the women’s front where it’s a bit of a concern. We don’t have the same bench strength for women as we do for men. I’m not saying we don’t have the talent, we do. But none of them are on the same level as Saina or Sindhu, which is a bit worrying,” Padukone said.
The Indian women’s team had won the bronze medal twice but failed to advance to the quarterfinals after losing 3-0 to Thailand in the Uber Cup.
Padukone said India must continue to aim higher after raising the bar with Thomas Cup victory as there will be many expectations.
“There will be more pressure now. India has raised the bar now. People will have more expectations and even a semi-final or a final result will not be acceptable. It is understood that the level has dropped.
“So it’s going to be important to balance that and make sure we win as many events as we can and not be satisfied. We have to go for gold every time,” he said.