The country's first badminton star. Padukone is the one who paved the way for the growth of the sport in the country and is to date the best male badminton player from India to have ever graced the sport. And this is saying a lot, because badminton as a sport has grown leaps and bounds, but no male shuttler has been able to reach the skies as high as Padukone.
Prakash Padukone was introduced to the sport by his father Ramesh Padukone, the then secretary of the Mysore Badminton Association. The sport wasn't prominent in the country and Padukone's start was anything but smooth. His first official tournament was the Karnataka State junior championship in 1962. He lost in the very first round, but two years on he won the title. His dedication saw him grow leaps and bounds and in the end he emerged as one of the best to have graced the sport from India.
After first laying hands on a trophy at the state junior championship in 1964, Padukone went on the take over the domestic circuit, winning the senior title in the same year and clinched it seven year in a row. While the Karnataka shuttler had made a name for himself in the domestic circuit, his first big international break came at the 1978 Commonwealth games. Padukone clinched the men's singles gold and that put him on the international map.
But that was just the beginning. 1980 turned out to be his year. After winning the Danish Open and the Swedish Open, the Indian shuttler won the most prestigious tournament and went down in history. Padukone won the world's oldest and most prestigious tournament, the All England Championship in 1980, and become the first Indian to win the men's singles title. That year the shuttler achieved the numero status in rankings and went down in history as one of India's greatest. The next Indian to win it was Pullela Gopichand in 2001, twenty-one years after Padukone achieved the feat.
Padukone had also won gold in the 1978 Commonwealth Games and bronze in the 1983 World Championships. In the Asian Games in 1974 and 1986 the shuttler, a part of the men's team, secured bronze in both editions. With several accolades to his name, the former player is to date respected as one of the best the country has produced and has been an inspiration to many shuttlers.
As the current national coach of the country, Pullela Gopichand has been a solid force behind his wards and has tasted ample success as a coach. He is the mentor os some of the best players the country has produced, including reigning world champion PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth. But his journey began as a player and if not for injuries, Gopichand would have gone on to achieve many more accolades.
Like most kids of this country, the young Gopichand was lured by the idea of playing cricket. But under his older brother's tutelage, Gopichand chose badminton as his sport and the badminton fraternity will be glad he changed his mind. Gopichand, who was initially coached by SM Arif, had the opportunity to train at the Prakash Padukone academy. His first tasted success in 1996, winning the national title. He won the title five times in a row.
On the international front, Gopichand clinched silver in the Commonwealth Games in the 1998 edition. In that edition he secured two medals, a silver in the men's team event and a bronze in the men's single event.
While making a name for himself with several match-winning performances on the international circuit, the Arjuna awardee, once again put India on the world map, as he became only the second Indian to win the prestigious All England Championship. After Padukone had won it in 1980, no other Indian was able to achieve this feat. 21 years on, Gopichand showed his mettle as he beat the likes of World no. 1 Peter Gade and Chen Hong in the final, to lift the prestigious trophy.
But from thereon an injury-plagued career saw the shuttler opening his own coaching academy. In 2008 Gopichand founded the Gopichand Badminton Academy. The academy has given the country some of the best badminton players, including Sindhu, Saina, Parupalli Kashyap, Srikanth among several others. Two players from the academy went on to win Olympic medals - Saina on the bronze in 2012, while Sindhu won silver in 2016. The former player continues to give back to the sport through his academy and also as the chief national coach of the country.
After Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to reach the numero ranking in 1980, Saina Nehwal achieved the feat in 2015. While Saina became the first Indian woman to ever achieve the number one ranking, she became the overall second player after Padukone to achieve the feat. Saina and Sindhu are the two Golden Girls in badminton from the country. While Sindhu has taken over the reigns now, Saina is the one who put the Indian women's badminton scene under the spotlight and revived the sport in the country. She has helped the sport grow by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and is one of India's greatest players ever.
Born in Hisar, Saina took up the sport after her family shifted base to Hyderabad. In a new city, with no friends and language barrier, Saina took up badminton to help her through her new surroundings. With Saina's mother being a state level badminton player, the sport came to her naturally. The eight-year-old put her heart into it and with the full support of her parent's Saina has broken several records and has an unmatchable medal haul to her name. Saina married fellow badminton player in 2018 and continues to play, though her compatriot PV Sindhu has taken over the reigns now.
Having started her journey at the early age of eight, Saina showed her potential when she first tasted success in 2006, winning the under-19 national championship. Saina also created history as she became the first player to win the prestigious Asian Satellite Badminton tournament twice. Saina went on to win several accolades as a junior player, before she became the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton Championships in 2008.
With many firsts to her name, the Indian player took over the sport by storm. Indian badminton needed a match-winner like Saina to help the sport grow in the country and she did just that. Saina went on to become the first Indian woman to reach the quarter-finals at the Olympic Games. In 2009 June, Saina also became the first Indian to win a BWF Super Series title. Though Saina had already put her name down in the history books with many firsts to her name, there was no stopping her.
Saina went on to become the first Indian woman to reach the semifinals of the 2010 All England Super Series. With medals in the Olympic, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, it is hard to keep a count of the shuttlers achievements. If one were to list all her accolades this would be a never-ending list, but it is needless to say that Nehwal put herself up there with the greats and will always be credited for reviving the sport in the country.
The country has produce two golden girls in badminton. And Sindhu, being the younger one, has overshadowed her older compatriot, Saina Nehwal, in the last couple of years. It has been ten years since Sindhu entered the international badminton circuit. And her journey has been nothing short of a fairytale. Ten years down the line, the 24-year old is a World Champion, with many more accolades to her name, including an Olympic silver!
Sindhu has been brought up in a family which has enjoyed a sports culture. Though not the same sport as her parents, the Hyderabadi shuttler hails from a family which has embraced sports as an important part of life and has always been encouraged to pursue a sport. Both her parents had been national level volleyball players and her father, Ramana, an Arjuna awardee, was a member of the Indian volleyball team that clinched bronze in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games. Her sister, a doctor now, was a national-level handball player. With sports running in her veins, the country's no. 1 shuttler opted to chose badminton. She drew inspiration from none other than nationl coach Pullela Gopichand.
After making her debut on the international circuit in 2009, the shuttler hasn't looked back. She is a regular winner on the BWF circuit and her rise in the sport saw her rise to career high ranking of World No. 2 in April 2017. The 24-year-old came under the spotlight in 2012 after she broke into the top 20. The shuttler was just 17 then. From thereon, Sindhu has gone on to clinch a podium finish in every world championship from the 2013 edition, barring the 2015 edition. In 2019 she finally lay her hands on the Gold!
But en route to that gold Sindhu drew a lot of flak as she failed to overcome the final hurdle at several major events. Sindhu went down in history to become the first ever badminton player to reach an Olympic final. It was the 2016 Olympics. While the whole nation watched with baited breath, the shuttler endured an agonising loss to Spain's Carolina Marin, to let the gold slip out of her fingers. She settled for silver. But settled is a term one which wouldn't justify her accomplishment, as the silver medal had already put her down in history books. A feat achieved by no other Indian before.
But from thereon, the shuttler has failed to cross the final hurdle in several major events and that saw her face a lot of criticism. She won her first Superseries title in 2016 at the China Open, but then went on to lose four finals in 2017. Many blamed her for not having the temperament to pull off a win in a final. But the shuttler overcame that phase as well as in 2018 the shuttler once again created history by becoming the first Indian to win the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals. In 2019 she once again proved to be the best the country has produced in the sport as she clinched gold in the 2019 World Championships.
Sindhu, who made the Forbes' list of Highest-Paid Female Athletes in 2018, is a recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, the Arjuna award and the Padma Shri. With the World Championship gold in her kitty, the 24-year-old has set herself up nicely for the Tokyo Olympics and will hope to lay her hands on the gold and go down as the country's best ever in the sport. Having already achieved so much, the 24-year-old has the potential to break many more records and set more milestones as she has a long career to look forward to.
When the women badminton players had overshadowed the men, with Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu breaking all barriers, it was Kidambi Srikanth who put the men back on the map with his title-winning prowess. Srikanth is arguably one of the best the country has produced and having won the maximum number of super series titles by an Indian male player, he has carved out a place for himself along side the greats of Indian badminton.
Another prodigy of the Gopichand academy, Srikanth as emerged as one of India's finest to date. Born in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, the youngster followed his older brother's footsteps. K Nandagopal, Srikanth's older sibling is also a badminton player. Srikanth put himself on the map winning titles at the junior level. He was a part of the new crop of Indian players, which included the likes of Sai Praneeth, Sameer Verma, HS Prannoy amongst several others. But his promising outings put him above the rest and he did prove everyone right as he went on to become World No. 1 in April, 2018.
Srikanth showed a lot of promise in his early days, as he won silver in the mixed doubles and bronze in the doubles of the the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2011. He also won both the singles and doubles title at the All Indian Junior International Badminton Championship that year. The following years saw him clinch several semifinal and knockout stage finishes, while also winning the national title. In 2014 Srikanth wonthe China Open Super Series Premier to become the first Indian to win a Super Series Premier men's title.
He has been a beacon for the upcoming badminton players and his feat in the Super Series paved the way for the revival of men's badminton in the country. He took men's badminton out from the shadow of the women, who had been on a record-breaking outing. 2017-18 saw the Indian shuttler reach the pinnacle of his career. He was rewarded for his efforts as he became world no. 1 in the men's single in April, 2018. Srikanth already has the maximum number of Super Series (7) title any Indian male player and at just 25 he still has a long career ahead. He is already one of the greatest the country has produces, but he still can go a long way and help Indian badminton achieve several more accolades.