All England Badminton Championships is around the corner and a Dane who sizzled on those courts was in Bengaluru last week. Morten Forst, considered one of the greatest shuttlers, won that coveted event four times. Known for his exceptionally smooth and fluidic playing style, Frost was one player fans flocked to see.
Inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 1998, Frost was also blessed with a great mind. After he hung up his racquet, he took to coaching and was instrumental in Denmark winning 20 major medals, including an Olympic gold in 1996 (Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen). At the same time, he kept himself busy by doubling up as a commentator and remains one of the most respected figures on the circuit.
In the city after being roped in as a consultant coach at his friend Prakash Padukone’s Badminton Academy, the 60-year-old talked about India’s two badminton queens, the state of the game today and his bitter fallout with the Malaysian federation. Excerpts…
The Chinese dominance feels threatened now, especially in the women’s circuit where just two players from the Dragon nation occupy the top-10 slot. Players from Japan, India, Spain, Thailand and Chinese Taipei are giving it an extremely competitive look.
There’s no doubt that women’s singles is by far the most competitive category of all five in the world scene. Women’s singles is awesome. Especially with the reasons what you are saying is a nice spread of nationalities. It’s also a nice spread of personalities, also a very nice spread of playing styles. Women’s singles badminton has never ever had such a high level than what it’s got today. It’s really one of the events that you are looking forward to watch which I think is great.
People started to write off Saina Nehwal, the pioneer of women’s badminton in India, following a spate of injuries and dip in form. But she just keeps bouncing back, winning the Commonwealth Games gold and Asian Games bronze last year. She also beat current star PV Sindhu in the last two national championships final.
She has done extremely well. She is a really strong competitor, you have to admire her for that. She is very steady and committed to what she is doing and she has a strong mind. After the Olympics in 2016, she got injured and had to have an operation and could only come back later. I think that was a great achievement to be able to come back to the top level. I remember when I was commentating, I said she is definitely top 10 potential. Of course on the (inter)net, everyone has an opinion on everything and Saina, they wrote her off. But I was right. There are some players she loves to play and some others who she doesn’t like so much. So it’s all about how (she solves) the puzzles. If they fall in the right way for her she can be a very strong contender and if its in the wrong way she will be struggling from quarters, maybe even pre-quarters.
People questioned Sindhu’s mental strength following a spate of losses in the finals. You’ve lost two World Championship finals and could never win one despite four All England titles. Will the BWF World Tour Finals victory instil that much-needed self-belief in her?
I don’t think you should question her. She is again a marvellous competitor and a very good ambassador for your country. She is always going out there doing her best at any given time. She has not had luck on her side on many occasions. She has been so extremely close. She has lost them but you have to respect that she has been able to win as many medals as she already has. I personally believe winning the World Tour Finals in December will project her even higher in World ranking and give her that push that she needs to go all the way.
You’ve always stayed in touch with the game even after hanging up your racquet. How do you think the game has evolved?
If you talk worldwide I think they are better than what we were. If you look at track and field, when the 100m was won 30 years ago and now, they are two different times. Everything is getting better and better and badminton is the same. One of the big thing in badminton is the scoring system has changed and that has changed the approach to the game. So it’s very much a matter of moving with times. As Prakash says, taking some of the good things from the past and combining it with some of the new things (makes you a complete player). The game has definitely developed. It’s faster, they hit harder. But then the game has also got more breaks today. It was supposed to be what we call continuous play but if you know how the umpires are always trying to push the players to continue playing. But somehow we always need to wipe the floor we can do whatever and we get longer matches.
You had bitter fallout with the Malaysian federation and Lee Chong Wei. Would you like to comment on it.
Not prepared to comment too much. I usually say, I laugh and cry with my players. I am honest and truthful and trustworthy. So whatever we have discussed is not for the public (to know). So I would like to keep it that way. Having said that, I must say that I find it that... not about Lee Chong Wei but about the Malaysian system that they wouldn’t understand that they are dealing with human beings and not a car. We can’t just fine-tune a screw and the car runs 10k faster. It is about humans and it takes time. Patience is a virtue. A lot of people in Malaysia are not having that kind of patience. They want instant gratitude. That is not possible.
The game is receding in Europe. Do you think Carolina Marin has resurrected it?
I am sure it is helping in Spain, not sure about Denmark. Even in the Danish association, the number of members have halved in the past 30 years. It is dwindling. The number of organised people playing is about 100,000. We used to be 200,000, we used to be more. So it is very hard to maintain the interest of the young people in the sport. Obviously, one thing that can help is producing champions the whole time. But what can also help is the prize money coming into the game. So players or young people when they are choosing they can say ‘maybe there is a future in badminton’. Before they would say there was no future and didn’t go into badminton in Europe. You need a qualification, you need a job to survive after badminton. Whereas in Asia it is a completely different ball game.
Your favourite All England is coming up. Your picks?
It will be wrong of me to say that (Kento) Momota is not the favourite. I know he has lost the last three tournaments but he is the favourite in my book. He is in a lot of peoples books. So I would say he is the favourite. He can be upset, he can lose no doubt. But you must consider him as the favourite. In women’s singles you can’t say. Marin is out for a while and in all honesty it will be tough for her to comeback. I am sure she has got the personality that it takes to comeback. But you have to consider that it is a slow hall in Birmingham. It means it favours those who are good runners. Akane Yamaguchi is a good runner. You have to consider her, (Nozomi) Okuhara… These are really good runners, outstanding. It is so tough to kill when it comes to All England. So you have to bear that in mind. In women’s singles I wouldn’t say anybody is going to win. But there is a slight edge to those who do a lot of running.