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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

The Dane grooming India’s future star shuttlers

He even knows how many quarter-finals PV Sindhu played the last year. Commentating for three months a year, the Dane keeps himself updated for the other nine.

other-sports Updated: Aug 15, 2019 19:02 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Danish legend Morten Frost has been roped in by Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy to train youngsters.
Danish legend Morten Frost has been roped in by Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy to train youngsters.(Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

For someone who is retired close to 28 years, Morten Frost is well versed with the happenings of modern day badminton. Not just the winners of major tournaments; from the rankings to knowing itsy-bitsy details about debutants, the 61-year-old has it all on his fingertips. He even knows how many quarter-finals PV Sindhu played the last year. Commentating for three months a year, the Dane keeps himself updated for the other nine.

“I do a lot of preparation on a virtually day-to-day basis,” says the former world No 1. “Should I be so lucky to commentate on Sindhu playing Chen Yufei, I’ll be ready having done my home work. But yes otherwise, I had plenty of time for another project.”

That free time eventually helped in Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) rope in the four-time All England champion as a consultant coach with the help of Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ). The twice World Championship silver medallist will coach juniors at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE) on the outskirts of the city here.

Frost will also take four juniors from the academy, including India’s rising star and current junior world No 2 Lakshya Sen, to Denmark for three months (September-November) for an exposure trip. The young shuttlers will get to train with their European counterparts, play club badminton and also partake in a few tournaments.

“The foundation has been done here. A very good group of players have been made who have got certain potential. I have been brought in to bring in another perspective on things, maybe come up with a little bit of inspiration. I don’t see myself as a big magician,” said the Scandinavian, who spent a consecutive 12 years in the top-3 of world rankings. “The trip to Denmark will be an educational journey. It is important you get out there, face different sorts of challenges, other ways of looking at things, open your mind in so many different ways. And they are young, it is easy be expand their minds.”

Lakshya is already creating waves at the junior circuit. Last year, the 17-year-old not just won a bronze at the World Junior Championships, but also clinched a silver at the Youth Olympics, not to mention the gold he won at the Asia Junior Championships.

Having coached the likes of the legendary Lee Chong Wei and 1996 Olympic gold medallist Poul-Erik Hoyer (current BWF president), Frost was planning the training regime of Lakshya with PPBA chief coach U Vimal Kumar when this correspondent walked into his cabin. “If you can be 1-2-3 in the world as a junior, you have good potential. Who would say otherwise? It is all about bringing that potential out,” said Frost.

However, this partnership with PPBA would not have possible if not for his close friendship with Padukone. It was in the early 1980s that the suave Indian shuttler went to the Nordic country to sharpen his skills. With over 600 clubs, multiple training centres and some of the best players and coaches in the world, it was the ideal place to be for the Bengaluru-resident. Padukone met Frost at the Hvidovre Club in Copenhagen where they practiced together for years and forged this companionship. They have much in common—both were elegant on court in their playing days, and are soft spoken, reclusive and stay as far away as possible from the politics of the sport. “Prakash hates it even more than me,” laughed Frost.

Even the slightest mention of Padukone brings a wide smile on Frost’s face, but they were intense rivals too back in their playing days. “At the end of the day we are in there fighting to win,” Frost said. “But as soon as we’re outside the court we are friends, gentlemen who help one another.”

By now Frost was racking his brains, eager to dish out more anecdotes about Padukone. “I remember when he came to Denmark and saw snow for the first time I thought that was pretty funny.” With temperatures easily dipping below the freezing point, the shuttler from south India found it difficult to cope with. “The cold weather really got to him but he eventually got used to it,” said Frost.

Interest in Indian badminton

Frost’s keen interest in his new project also led him to attend the National Championships in Guwahati in February. It was in the final that Saina Nehwal beat Sindhu to defend the national crown. Fresh from her victory at the World Tour Finals, the Olympic silver medallist went down in straight games.

“I actually felt that when Sindhu won the year-end final in December that maybe it’ll spark her to start winning (tournaments). I could have seen that as a first step that this big one is under your belt, now it is time to look forward. However, that has not happened for whatever reason,” said Frost.

He thinks the two women are neck-and-neck when it comes to the race for a medal at the upcoming World Championships which begins August 19 at Basel.

“If you’d asked me six months ago, I would’ve said Sindhu but her performance lately has not been the best. I think she has lost a bit of patience. She has dropped a little bit,” he said.

Among the men Frost believes that Kidambi Srikanth has the “best chance” of clinching an Olympic medal at Tokyo. “He has proved due to his world ranking that he is a top-10 player and has been there for quite a while. He’s got the potential. He’s up there, got a good game and has got the weapons.

“Sameer Verma is relying too much on retrieving. He must also be able to score a little bit more. India have a good group of players, HS Prannoy, B Sai Praneeth, all of whom are in top-25 of the world. That is a very strong field. India is a strong badminton playing country now.”

Unlike Padukone in Denmark, Frost is settling in well in the Indian summer, even though it doesn’t get that hot in Bengaluru. With temperatures hovering between 25-30 degree Celcius, Frost says he is alright with it, as he is with the spicy food. “Of course I can’t take the extreme spice but for a European I can take quite a lot. Contrary to a lot of other badminton players I actually enjoy coming to India and have never had an upset tummy, which is quite an achievement coming from my part of the world.”

First Published: Aug 15, 2019 02:26 IST

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