This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Former international shuttler Uday Pawar has served Indian badminton with distinction in both singles and doubles. A former national coach, he presently runs the Uday Pawar Badminton Academy in Mumbai. His son Anand Pawar is a top Indian shuttler, while his wife Sujata is also a former international shuttler. Uday talks about his playing days, the health of Indian badminton and much more in an exclusive interview.
Tell us a bit about your early days in badminton – how did you take up the sport?
I was born and brought up in Lonavala. I liked to play all sports at a young age and was the captain of my Don Bosco school team in sports like badminton, cricket and table tennis. My late father P.D.Pawar, was a cricketer, who played for the Combined Universities and was a sports lover, who used to organise state-level tournaments in Lonavala every year. When I was about 10 years old, I won a badminton tournament in Lonavala defeating a good player from Mumbai and since then, badminton became my biggest passion.
Can you enlighten us on how you started off on the domestic circuit at various age levels?
Well, during those days, there was only under-18 category in the junior level. I was fortunate that at the age of 13, I was playing outside Lonavala for the first time and fared well and was selected to represent Pune district and for Maharashtra. I also won my first national crown in junior doubles with Sanjay Sharma the same year. I later went on to win 3 more junior national doubles titles with my good friend Madhur Bezbora and the mixed doubles title when the event was first introduced in the juniors, with Manik Paranjpe. In the junior singles, I was not so successful as I lost two national finals to Syed Modi.
Do you have any fond memories of your first senior nationals?
I still remember I beat four seeded players and reached the finals of my first senior nationals in 1976, where I lost to Prakash Padukone in a close match. In fact, those days both the junior and senior nationals were held simultaneously; there is an interesting statistic – Prakash Padukone is the only player from India to win both the titles in the same year. Ami Ghia Shah was the winner in the Seniors and finalist in the Junior; interestingly, my wife Sujata was the junior champion and runners-up in the Seniors (she and Ami won one title each and had reached the finals in both events in the same year). I have the dubious distinction of losing both the finals in the same year – juniors to Syed Modi and the seniors to Prakash Padukone.
Can you tell us a bit about your first international tournament?
After reaching the finals in my first senior nationals at the age of 17 at Jallandhar in 1976, I was selected to represent India in the first-ever World Championship held in Sweden (Malmo). I lost in the first round in three games, but the sheer experience of representing the country in such a prestigious event was an an honour and a big boost for my badminton career.
What are your biggest wins in singles and doubles?
I was good in both singles and doubles – I won several national doubles titles and was the singles runners-up twice – lost to Prakash Padukone and then Syed Modi. In hindsight, I feel that I should have perhaps concentrated on one of the two events as playing in two events put me at a distinct disadvantage against players like Prakash and Modi, who played only singles. My workload used to be double and that means I was never fresh by the time I reached the finals. I defeated Modi twice, but could never beat Prakash who was too good, but I consider myself lucky to have partnered Prakash in doubles during Thomas Cup and other team events. My advice to youngsters is to play both singles and doubles till they are 17-18 years old, but then specialize in one of the two events.
We won many laurels for the country at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. I learnt a lot of my badminton from Prakash when we partnered each other in doubles and I consider him as one of the most intelligent and clever players produced by India. In fact, we all (his contemporaries) still call him “BOSS” with respect and affection!
How has badminton changed over the years?
Badminton has changed a lot over the years because of better equipments, scientific training/coaching and also because of the change in the scoring system. The game has become faster and more aggressive, now even coaching is allowed between points, which have made the role of a coach more vital. Earlier, a player had to use his own brains to outwit an opponent, but today, a coach can do the thinking for the player, which is not such a good thing as it has robbed the game of its natural flair.
Which has been your most memorable international match and why?
The deciding match that me and Prakash won in doubles at the 1986 Seoul Olympics beating world no. 5 Japanese pair of Matsura & Matsuno to win the bronze medal. India qualifying for the Thomas Cup finals in 1978 & 1989 are other high points of my playing career. In singles, I beat players like Icuk Sugiarto who became the world champion in 1983. I also defeated Kevin Jolly, who was the European champion – these wins are really special for me.
How close are Indian shuttlers in terms of matching the mighty Chinese in all departments of the game?
Look, the change in the scoring format about five years ago has augured well for the India players – the earlier system favoured players with only superior fitness. This format is good for the Indian players as it needs good skills and temperament, which we are good at. There are more breaks in the game, which allow a player to recover and start afresh. One does not have to be as fit as the Chinese or Indonesians, but even if one attains about 80-85% of their fitness, it is enough as we have better skills and temperament.
How do you look at the current health of Indian badminton?
Players like Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap have broken into the top 5 and 10 respectively and now it’s a question of maintaining their fitness and grabbing the opportunities that come their way. They are an inspiration to all the aspiring youngsters from India, who should go all out without any fear or doubt. Their attitude should be – if Saina and Kashyap can do it, so can we.
Tell us a bit about your badminton academy –how did it come up and how is it shaping up?
I was the coach of the senior national team for seven years and our team fared very well during those years, winning medals at the Commonwealth Games as well as qualifying for the Thomas Cup final rounds twice. But, then staying away from the family without getting paid for my services was tough on me. I got the inspiration to start an academy from my coach Mr. P. Pramanik, and formally started it 12 years ago, but even before that I was coaching privately and had produced players like Manjusha Pawangadkar, Sachin Ratti, Vincent Lobo and Sushant Chippalkatti – players who became national champions and went on to win international laurels as well. The unique point about my academy is that all the players have started playing as beginners under my guidance and have gone on to win national titles and represent the country.
Players like my son Anand, Tanvi Lad, Harshil Dani and others have won national titles, beating players from all over the country. Our academy, which is being run in association with a lot of encouragement from Goregaon Sports Club comprises about 25 players of various age groups. We do not have a sponsor now or in all these years, but I have not lost hope. Our efforts are there to be seen in the form of results and we hope these talented youngsters do get support and better facilities that they deserve.
How do you assess Anand Pawar’s performance on the international stage –what’s more you want him to achieve?
Anand was doing very well 2-3 years ago, but he had a major setback in 2009 when he sustained a back injury in his spine. He has won 7 international tournaments over the years, even came very close to beating top-10 player like Sony Dwi Kuncero, played 3 games with the great Lee Chong Wei, but needs to be more consistent and mentally strong. Indian players have traditionally done well at an age later than most Chinese or Indonesians, so the next few years are important for Anand. He has the potential to be a top-10 player and I, as his father and coach along with my wife Sujata, are doing our best to help him. But the journey to the top is his and we pray that he achieves the goals that he has set for himself.