The story of Nandu Natekar - the hero before Prakash Padukone
Meet Nandu Natekar, the man who put Indian badminton on the world map in the 50's.
The first big moment in the history of Indian badminton arrived in 1980 when Prakash Padukone showed the world what a player from a country not-so-renowned for its ability to produce skilled players in the sport, can do by winning the prestigious All England Championships in Birmingham.
It was also a period in Indian sport, when we were largely and rightly, known for our exploits on the hockey turf and Padukone’s achievement in such a time carried additional significance, purely because it gave the motivation for so many more to take up the sport, put in the hard yards and eventually, succeed.
Padukone showed that what happened that year wasn't a fluke, when in 1983 he created further history by becoming the 1st Indian to win a medal at the World Championships in Copenhagen and his position in the pantheon of Indian sporting legends continued to go just one way- upwards.
While the feats of Padukone are ranked highly in the Indian sporting books even today, there was another player, who also achieved several important feats for India in the sport.
Born in Sangli on the 12th of May 1933, Nandu Natekar first played for India in 1953 at the age of 20 and had a distinguished 12-year-career where he saw several highs both individually and as part of a team.
Natekar was the first Indian to enter the Top 5 in the world and defeated every player of his generation, the most memorable victory coming in 1958 when he beat Erland Kops, the then World No.1 to win the CCI Open.
He played a highly skilled game and a combination of pinpoint accuracy and wristy strokeplay made him one of the most feared players on the circuit. Natekar won six National titles in singles, six in doubles and five in mixed doubles and had an exceptional internationally as well.
In 1954 he entered the semifinals of the World Invitation Meet and then two years later, Natekar became the first Indian to win an overseas tournament when he clinched Sellanger International in Malaysia and found his name in a souvenir published by the country, that was aptly titled ‘Greats’.
He entered the quarterfinals of the hallowed All England Championships in 1954, which incidentally was also the only year when he participated in the competition and but later on, achieved success while playing in the veterans competition of the event, winning in the doubles category in 1980 and 1981 and finishing second in 1982.
In 1961, Natekar became the first Indian sportsperson to be conferred with Arjuna Award and the very same year was also voted the most popular Indian sportsperson.
His success in the individual events reciprocated when he was part of the Indian team at the Thomas Cup, winning 12 out of the 16 Singles matches and 8 out of 16 in Doubles between 1951 and 1963. He also led India in the competition on three occasions- in 1959, 1961 and 1963.
Away from the badminton court, Natekar served as a Public Relation Officer(PRO) with Hindustan Petroleum and was also a part of the Maharashtra State Sports Council. He also founded the Natekar Sports & Fitness in Pune.
In all, Natekar won an amazing 100 titles and at a time when India was ruling the roost on the hockey turf, stood out on his own as one of the shining lights for Indian badminton.
Son follows father’s footsteps
While Sr. Natekar excelled on the badminton, his son Gaurav tasted success on the tennis court.He won the National Championships in Singles on seven occasions and also won the Gold in the doubles at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima with Leander Paes as well in the team event.
Like his father, Gaurav was also awarded the Arjuna Award in 1996 and he reached a career-high ranking of 272 in Singles and 167 in doubles. He was part of the Indian Davis Cup team between 1992 and 1997.