Not only did he win every single one of the matches he played, but Padukone did it with relative ease as he won all the games in straight sets.
Over the years, India has had the honor and privilege of being the home for athletes who have either shot the nation into the international limelight through their respective sport, or who have elevated a particular sport in the country to astronomical levels. There have been plenty who have performed consistently at the highest level and have deserved the necessary praise. In cricket, there is Sachin Tendulkar, in football, Sunil Chhetri can be attributed with making Indians follow domestic football with a passion, and who can ever forget Abhinav Bindra’s unparalleled 2008 Olympics gold medal victory in shooting. Much like the aforementioned legends, there has been one particular athlete in badminton who put India on the map with his 100% winning performance at one of the sport’s biggest tournaments. The man in question, of course, is the great Prakash Padukone.
By no means, Padukone was the first Indian badminton player to leave a mark on the international scene. However, he was undoubtedly the most successful. His charismatic and impossible-to-hate personality has kept him in people’s minds to this day and he is regarded as one of the greatest sports personalities the country has ever produced. Over the course of his hall of fame career, Padukone has garnered the respect of millions and won countless accolades. Perhaps the most notable and influential one of them all was his success at the All England Open in 1980.
By the time the tournament came along, Padukone was not a newbie or an amateur at the game. He had already established himself as the best Indian shuttler of the time, becoming the first from the country to win the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 1978. Many had argued at the time that it was the peak of his career. Little did they know that he was on course to win badminton’s Holy Grail.
Despite being well accomplished to be considered a player to look out for, Padukone was, in no sense, the favourite. Yet his performance would suggest otherwise. Not only did he win every single one of the five matches he played, but he also did it with relative ease as he won all the games in straight sets. He played like he was an internationally acclaimed shuttler playing at a district-level tournament. Yet all of his opponents, especially the two in the semi-finals and finals, were legends of the game in their own rights.
He faced off against Malaysia’s Suffian Abu Bakar in the round of 32 and dispatched him 15-7, 15-12. This was followed by what supposedly should have been a stern test against Indonesia’s Hadiyanto. Padukone did not let him score even a single point in the first set as he won 15-0, 15-10 to advance to the quarter finals. Here, he was met with Denmark’s Svend Pri who was beaten 15-4, 15-4. Then came the two matches that would change Indian badminton forever. The semi-finals and the finals were against the two tournament favorites, the top two players in the world at the time.
Padukone went up against Denmark’s Morten Frost Hansen in the semi-finals. By this point, the badminton world had already been wowed by Padukone’s displays. However, Hansen was the clear-cut favorite to advance to the finals. Padukone made short work of the Dane, and the result sent shockwaves around the world. He won the match 15-8, 15-10. It would set up a date against the feared Indonesian shuttler, Liem Swie King, in the final, on March 23, 1980.
Surely, Padukone’s dream run was to be halted? While everyone’s heads said King would be crowned champion, their hearts went with Padukone. It was turning out to be a fairy tale story, much like Leicester City’s Premier League win in 2016.
Padukone and King squared up against each other, with the world expecting King to either dispatch Padukone with relative ease or the Indian taking the Indonesian to the limit and then falling victim to him. Nobody could have possibly imagined what followed. An utterly dominating performance from the Indian to beat King 15-3, 15-10. The world witnessed history as Padukone was crowned the first Indian to win the All England Open.
Today, the competition might not be what it was in the 80s. Certainly, since the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics, the All England Open is no longer the highest prize in badminton. However, it still is one of the most prestigious honors, especially for Indian shuttlers. A nation inspired by Padukone would want nothing more than to produce yet another shuttler who could walk in the great man’s footsteps.