Badminton legends, past and present, have descended in India as part of the Yonex Legends Vision initiative. Former greats Lee Yong Dae (doubles specialist from South Korea), Taufiq Hidayat (Indonesia) and Peter Gade (Denmark) along with Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan are in Mumbai and spoke to the media ahead of their participation in a series of exhibition matches later in the day against Indian badminton stars.
Here are excerpts from the media interaction:
On India’s growing love for badminton and how to improve it:
Peter Gade: First of all we see, big evolution in popularity of badminton in India because of good performances in the last many years by Saina Nehwal, ( PV) Sindhu, (Kidambi) Srikanth. It is very important for the sport to have celebrities, people who are performing on a high level and at the same time the other people know about it. That is what you are seeing now in India. In India, people also know a lot of about the guys sitting here (Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan). So that is a very good combination. We have seen a big evolution of Indian badminton players and we need the broader public to know about these players, not only as players but as stars of the game.
Lee Yong Dae: I am expecting the future of India in badminton (doubles) to be very good in next three to four years, because so many people are putting a lot of efforts. India can also win an Olympics medal in the next edition [in doubles].
Thoughts on Coach Mulyo Handoyo (Current singles coach for Indian singles players who was Taufiq Hidayat’s coach as well):
Taufiq Hidayat: He is an excellent coach and not just on the badminton court but off the court as well. He is like my friend, brother and father, We can share everything and knows how to handle the players off-court, which is his great strength.
Srikanth was quoted as saying the era of Chinese domination is over. Thoughts?
Peter Gade: At the moment, in the men’s singles you still have Lin Dan and Chen Long, players who have won big titles. Yes, you have some younger players coming forward and starting to make their impact like Srikanth. A player like (Kento) Momota will also come. Its a very exciting period for men’s singles and hopefully we will see some great matches and fights. And may be towards the next Olympics, you will see a (bigger) group of men’ singles stars (competing for title). What we are seeing now is a more open field. In the men’s singles, it is a transition because (of a few) players being at the top and younger players coming forward.
Asia has been the traditional power centre for badminton but now European nations are making their mark too. Is badminton becoming a more global centre without power centres?
Peter Gade: For me, I still see the power-centre as Asia, that is for sure. Now may be we have more different countries taking part from Asia (apart from China) and Europe, we have seen Carolina Marin from Spain and a few others. I have been working with the French team, trying to produce players. But I still see, the power centre is in Asia. Denmark is also producing players for the highest level and a few other European countries , it is good for the game if we have more countries taking part. We may see future of Badminton moving towards Tennis but that will still take some time. There is lot of attention and resources available in Asia, and we still have a lot of work to do in Europe to bring badminton to the same level.
On the upcoming Indian players and end of China’s domination in the sport:
Lin Dan: Currently in China young people are getting more involved in the sport. In high schools, they have there groups and all. Sooner or later (it will back to be where it was). In India, you see players like Saina and Srikanth, they have progressed very well. The youngsters are doing very well too.
The emergence of Viktor Axelsen as the world champion:
Peter Gade: Viktor is a young man and very ambitious. He is willing to put in his 100 per cent in his effort to become the best player in the men’s singles. And that is what he is doing and I have a lot of respect for that. His style of play is to attack in a powerful way, he is big boy (laughs) so he has got a lot of range. And the challenge for him is to still move fast and cover the court in best way possible. And I know that he has worked on this for the last many years. His challenge for the coming years will be to be stable, perform at every single tournament at the highest level. It’s a challenge for him to take care of his body and his preparations in the right way. He still needs to develop his game to be at the top in men’s singles.
The emergence of stars in women’s singles and whether the talent there is overshadowing men:
Peter Gade: In ladies singles you have lot of personalities coming forward and players from different countries. There’s a very exciting future and it is only a beginning of that. It is mainly because of (end of) the Chinese domination and now that it is more open, you will also see reaction from Chinese ladies singles. Lets hope that we continue to have open completion which is good for spectators and game.
Lee Chong Wei’s rivalry with Lin Dan, emerging rivalries and how badminton has changed over the years:
Lee Chong Wei: Lin Dan and I started in Asian juniors and I always respected him. Our rivalry has been also good for the sport. Everybody wants to see me and Lin Dan (play) and he is also my big enemy. We are always enemies but outside the court we are friends. [With a] lot of youngsters coming through in men’s singles, for me and Lin Dan it will be tough to win titles now. The next big rivalry I think will be Viktor Axelsen and Kento Momota.
The idea behind the Legends Vision initiative:
Peter Gade: Yonex made this initiative possible and I think for all of us, it makes sense as individuals – we did a wonderful job in our sports for many many years. Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan are still doing it. We have a lot of fans all over the world. (laughs) Together we can send a very clear message, a powerful one to the Badminton fans around the world, not only badminton (playing) countries, but also hopefully in countries where badminton needs to be bigger, so that is the main reason behind it to get more young people to badminton while having a wider audience all over the world.
Finally, on the alleged emotional ‘letter’ from Lin Dan to Lee Chong Wei that went viral on social media:
Lin Dan: No, it was not real!