Every sports journalist has a weak point. I have four. In no particular order, they are Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Peter Gade and Lee Chong Wei. They all are former world No.1 badminton players and were the rulers of this sport for many glorious years — yes all of them! Together, they hogged the top-5 rankings (and stayed on for many months in the top-10) to the extent that I used to think of them as badminton bullies.
I covered badminton since the start of my career and got a chance to see the charismatic Indonesian bad boy, Hidayat, and the crafty Malaysian Lee Chong Wei in action during the India Open GP 2009 in Hyderabad. Lee lost in the first round while Taufik won the title.
I was watching like a starry-eyed fan (far cry from them ‘eh I don’t care’ attitude we journalists feign in front of celebrities) as Taufik swished and swooshed his racquet to take down every opponent. It was like a live video game for me.
After a match, all players are required to come to the place where media persons are stationed, so that journalists can talk to them. After his semi-final win, when Taufik came there, I just lost it and asked if I could get a picture clicked with him. That was not the time when camera phones were that popular, so I enlisted the help of another photojournalist. Oh the way I sang and danced and smiled the whole day… it was magical!
One down three more to go.
Jaundice prevented me from covering the World Championships in Hyderabad that year, but as luck would have it, I moved to New Delhi the year the first India Open Super Series (2011) was held.
So, that year Not only did Hidayat and LCW turn up, I got starry-eyed and jelly-knee-ed all over again when I saw Denmark’s Peter Gade warm-up in the practice courts.
He was just so flawless! We spoke to him after his practice and he talked about how he is recovering from this injury and that surgery and how he misses his girls… all I could think of was are you kidding! Nobody who is injured plays like that! The way he moved on court, as if he had all the time in the world to decide how to return the shuttle, it was a treat to watch!
That year, LCW won. But the pressure of deadlines and getting the best charging spot at the media centre meant that I had absolutely no time to think about pictures with LCW or Gade.
In 2012, these three giants show up again in New Delhi for this event. How time flew I do not know. Though I interacted with all three, I simply forgot about my secret album collection.
I left active journalism for sometime, so skipped the 2013 and 2014 Super series as well Thomas and Uber Cup Championship that were held in Delhi.
But I finally got my golden chance in 2015 when I was a part of the 2015 India Open Super Series. Gade and Hidayat have now said goodbye to badminton. LCW is out of action because of his doping trials.
But China’s Lin Dan was there! And so, I went straight for the big fish. Oh god, the way he was playing, it seemed surreal, I mean it. That AC drift that players keep complaining about — he looked lighter than that.
His features have changed a lot over the years, the chocolate boy looks have been replaced by a rugged mature man’s face.
Thank you all smartphone companies! For when Olympic champion and former world champion Lin Dan was in a good mood and was leaving the practice court, I had a camera phone with me. I did not lose even one second this time and got that perfect shot! God knows how long he is gonna keep playing, so at least I got my click before he retires.. ha ha.
Next point on my agenda — travel to Indonesia and Denmark to complete the story :).