Nandu Natekar, Dinesh Khanna upbeat on Indian badminton scene
Former India shuttle aces, Nandu Natekar and Dinesh Khanna, are pretty happy with the current badminton scene in the country.
Speaking to reporters here Natekar, who was the pioneer in terms of being the first one to win an international badminton title in Selangor, Malaysia, in 1956 said the badminton scene in the country is "changing" for the better with emphasis on speed and physical fitness.
"The badminton scene in India is changing for the better. The speeds have changed. If we were born in this era, we would have adjusted to the present times kind of badminton. There is no question about it. Once you are a champion, you are always a champion. Good that there is a lot of competition and the happiest part is the physical fitness is looked after very well," said the 84-year-old Natekar, winner of six national men’s singles titles in ten appearances in the summit clash in the 1950s and 1960s.
"Presently, it is the golden era of badminton in India. We have had two Olympic medallists. We have had them winning Super Series. This is the first time that two Indian men entered two SS final, India is the fourth country to do that. Sai Praneeth and K Srikanth," said former Asian men's singles champion Khanna.
According to Natekar there was reward for doing well unlike in his days when the players had to look after themselves.
"Players are keener to perform. And the reward you get by winning these days probably makes it more interesting to put in an additional effort," said the Pune-based Natekar.
"There is more competition and they are allowed to participate (in more top events). I went to All England only once. There was no fund and I was not one to run after the sponsors. Now things have changed for the better. It is good. I only hope that it spurs up the younger generation to go to the levels," he hoped.
Khanna, a retired civil engineer, was pretty impressed with the improved fitness of B Sai Praneeth who recently won the men's singles crown in the Singapore Open Super Series.
"I had a lot of hopes earlier also from Sai Praneeth. But he was a little deficient in fitness. He has worked on it for the last four months and that has yielded results. Fitness is the key today, the intensity of the game is so high that unless you are at peak fitness, you cannot do well," said Khanna.
Natekar was happy with the effort put in by the men shuttlers.
"Men's scene is good. They are good, quality players. They have to put in their best foot, put in a lot of effort, dedication. They cannot complain of competition, they get enough to play," said Natekar who hung up his racquet in 1965 after winning his sixth singles title in Mumbai.
"As far as men are concerned, we have an excellent depth; 14 players in first 100, four in first 30. That is great going. In women, there are two (Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu) outstanding players," said Khanna.
"Doubles and mixed doubles have been the weak link. With Malaysian coach, they have not really given any outstanding performance so far but in Super Series, their scores are better. I hope in Grand Prix and others we will get good performances," he added.
Natekar was confident that Saina will bounce back to where she was before the knee injury in Rio Olympics for which she needed to go under the surgeon's scalpel.
"Saina can still come back, she is there, not lost her position that way. Sindhu being younger makes a little bit of difference at that stage. You take football. People have laid up in bed for six months and have come back, great players. It is the mindset
that works. If you are destined to do, if you have the will which Saina has, and I am confident of her coming back," said Natekar.
Saying Saina needed to get back to her peak fitness, Khanna was also concerned about the lack of depth among the Indian women.
"Saina has to get her fitness back. Women's depth – I am a little concerned. The second string is rather weak. We have to work on that."
Natekar agreed that setting up more academies right across the country could be the answer to improve the scene further.
"Prakash (Padukone) started it, but did not produce many (top players). The way (P) Gopichand has done it, it is wonderful. I am told in other states also academies are opened. Looks like that is the answer," said India's one-time shuttle touch-artist.
"I have a lot of hopes. Recently BAI (Badminton Association of India) had some brainstorming, coming up with proposal with regional academies. It can be more broad-based. When you are looking at a higher level, they may have to be at a centralised academy," said Khanna.