Nandu Natekar passes away: India’s ‘first superstar of badminton’ had a Pune connection

During the 1950s to1960s, badminton became a household name in India because of Natekar’s contribution to the sport. The former world No.3 has over 100 national and international titles to his credit

Arjuna awardee and veteran badminton player Nandu Natekar (88) passed away in Pune Wednesday. He is survived by two daughters and son Gaurav, a seven-time national tennis champion.

Born in western Maharashtra’s Sangli in 1933, Natekar has over 100 national and international titles to his credit. After reaching the quarterfinals of the prestigious All England Badminton Championships in 1954, he went on to become the first Indian to clinch the Selangor Championship in Malaysia in 1956 — it was also the first time an Indian won an international title.

“Nandu Natekar was a legend in badminton and he showed to the world that India and Indians can also be winners on the international stage. He was the first-ever superstar that Indian badminton witnessed. I was fortunate to play under his guidance when he used to coach national players from Pune in the 1990s i.e. after he retired and settled in Pune. I also had the pleasure of working under him during the senior nationals of 1997. He was a very progressive and accommodative leader who was open to newer ideas irrespective of who was putting it forth,” said Ranjeet Natu, secretary of the Poona District and Metropolitan Badminton Association (PDMBA).

One of the most famous sportspersons of his time, Natekar was a former world number three. Between 1951 and 1963, he won 12 of the 16 singles matches and eight of the 16 doubles matches he participated in as part of the Indian team at the Thomas Cup. He also spearheaded the country in several tournaments in 1959, 1961 and 1963.

During the 1950s to1960s, badminton became a household name in India because of his contribution to the sport. He was honoured with an Arjuna award in 1961.

The prolific shuttler settled down in Pune after retirement and founded Natekar Sports and Fitness (NSF), which went on to strengthen the badminton ecosystem.

“He was one of the pioneers not just of badminton but Indian sport. He was the first Arjuna awardee and, of course, he has won several national as well as international tournaments. He was very talented and a very good stroke player. Although I could not see him play, when I was 15 years old I had the opportunity to play with him once a week at PDMBA, around 1994. He has been a leader and an inspiration for all future generations in badminton,” Nikhil Kanetkar of the Nikhil Kanetkar Badminton Academy (NKBA) said.

He added that in 2018, Natekar visited his academy for the annual summer camp. “He had penned down a letter for the academy and players…It was great to have known him and it is a big loss not just for badminton but also for the entire sports fraternity.

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