How Prakash Padukone became a badminton legend
The Indian badminton ace tells Bikash Mohapatra how the legendary Rudy Hartono inspired him to greatness.
To say Prakash Padukone is the best badminton player India has produced would be akin to making an understatement.
A glance at his achievements -- that include titles at the All-England title in 1980 and World Cup in 1981 amongst others -- suffices to corroborate his stature as a legend.
It doesn't, therefore, come across as a surprise to find that the player who inspired Padukone to his current status is a legend himself. Rudy Hartono!
On Monday, the two legends came together on the same platform, the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) in Mumbai. It was their first meeting after about seven years.
And Padukone, two days short of his 56th birthday, had no qualms in acknowledging that Hartono was the player who changed the way he approached his game.
"It was in 1974, when I was the National champion and got the opportunity to play Rudy at an invitational event in Bombay Gymkhana," reminisced a palpably nostalgic Padukone.
"I just managed to win three and five points in the two games against him (losing 15-3, 15-5)," he continued. "But that match helped me a lot as a player."
Padukone proceeded to explain the significance of that chance encounter in his career.
"I was a very defensive player till that point of time. It was then that I realized that I had to change the way I played my game if I had to make a mark at the international level.
"That match against Rudy also made me realise the importance of physical fitness, an aspect we didn't focus on in those days."
Image: Prakash Padukone and Rudy Hartono
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra
'1976 was the turning point of my career'
The impact was immediate. A young Padukone proceeded to watch Hartono play in another event on Indian soil.
"He went on to play in an event in Jabalpur and it was there that I asked his coach if I could go and see him practice.
"I saw him skipping for an hour and then he told me that he was doing light training that day since he was going to play in the final," informed Padukone.
These two interactions with the Indonesian ace influenced the aspiring shuttler considerably. The Indian youngster was now more certain about how he should go about his game.
Then came the moment that Padukone believes changed the course of his career.
"In 1976 I went to Jakarta and trained with the Indonesian national team at the Senayan Complex for about six weeks. That I believe was the turning point of my career."
Image: Prakash Padukone
'Rudy is definitely the best player ever'
Two years later, Padukone won the men's singles gold at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton (Canada). The rest, as they say, is history!
Now, 20 years after his retirement, when he is himself considered a legend in the shuttle sport, Padukone had no qualms in admitting who is the greatest badminton player ever.
"There has been [Erland] Kops, [Morten] Frost and [Liem Swie] King," he explained, adding, "King was, maybe, faster than Rudy.
"But Rudy is definitely the best player ever. He was a complete player, without any weaknesses in his game."
And even as the two legends met after a considerable gap, Padukone was more than happy to answer the many questions Hartono kept asking.
However, there was one that caught the Indian legend a little off-guard, perhaps.
"Why is your daughter [Deepika] an actress and not a badminton player?" asked Hartono, tongue-in-cheek.
Padukone could only smile back.
Image: Rudy Hartono