All England Open Badminton Championships | India's finest performances ever at world's oldest tournament

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One event where tradition and quality coexist is the All England Open Badminton Championships, the oldest badminton championship in the world. After the inaugural edition's huge success in Guilford in 1898, it was moved to London's Horticultural Halls in 1899 and is biggest event in BWF calendar.

Even though England is not really a force to reckon with in badminton anymore, it still boasts of hosting the grand, old tournament of the sport, the All England Open. After a brief era of dominance by England, there came a time when the Malaysians and the Indonesians ruled the roost, along with the Danes, but things are a lot different now. 

While there are favorites for sure, but just about anyone can lift the championship given the level of competition these days. In fact, a few Indian players will be in contention for the title too, despite going through a poor run of form in recent times. A lot of hopes will be pinned on HS Prannoy and PV Sindhu, who are the spearheads in the singles, but it will be the doubles that will enjoy equal, or perhaps a little more limelight this time around. 

Having said that, to date, India has seen only two championship winners and a few final appearances. SportsCafe takes a look at all of them.

Prakash Nath – Runner up 1947

The competition was suspended during World War II, but it was restarted in 1947. Prakash Nath and Devinder Mohan represented India as the only two entries from the country and interestingly, both were placed in the same half of the draw. Nath faced off against reigning champion Tage Madsen of Denmark in the opening round and the latter won the opening game 15-7.

Come the second game, the Indian won 15-12 to stay alive, while in the third one, much to the surprise of everyone, he thrashed Madsen 15-3. Later, in the second match, he defeated Tod Majury in straight games 15-7, 15-11. In the quarters, he was supposed to play Mohan, but both decided not to play the match, and the winner was decided with the flip of a coin. 

Nath's journey finally came to a halt in the final, where to lost to Denmark's Conny Jepsen 15-7, 15-11.

Prakash Padukone - Winner 1980, Runner-up 1981

On March 23, 1980, Prakash Padukone made history by becoming the first Indian to win the All England Open. He won the title without losing a single game. In the round of 32, he faced Malaysian Suffian Abu Bakr and defeated him 15-7, 15-12. Then it was the turn of Indonesian Hadiyanto in the following round and the Indian dominated the opening game 15-0. He advanced after winning the second 15-10.

Next up, Padukone got the better of Swiss opponent Pri 15-4, 15-4. He met Frost Hansen, another Swiss, in the last four. A fellow countryman of Pri met the same conclusion and was defeated by Padukone 15-8, 15-10.

He squared up against Indonesia's Liem Swie King in the championship match. King was in equally strong form and had dominated all of his opponents up to that point without losing a game. He was attempting to win his third consecutive championship as the two-time defending champion. Yet to everyone's amazement, Padukone won the opening game 15-3. From there on the Indonesian could hardly make a comeback and lost the second game 15-10.

When Padukone and his opponent squared off in the 1981 championship match, it was one of the most watched sporting events in history. King started out strong and quickly built a 9-0 lead because he intended to exact revenge for his earlier defeat. But Padukone overcame a deficit to prevail 11–15.

But, the enormous efforts he made to become better exhausted him. The Indian eventually lost the match, 15-11, 4-15, and 6-15, as the rallies grew lengthier in the second and third games.

Pullela Gopichand, winner 2001 

In 2001, Pullella Gopichand was not at all considered a favourite to take the title, or was even in contention. But he started the tournament well and easily defeated Colin Haugton in straight games in the Round of 32 (15-7, 15-4). He faced Chinese Ji Xingpeng, one of the tournament favourites, in the Round of 16. He was the reigning world champion at the time and an Olympic champion.

But, Gopichand pulled off a surprise by defeating the Chinese 15-3, 15-9. He maintained his strong form in the quarterfinals, defeating Anders Boesen 15-11, 15-7. In the next round, Peter Gade pushed him to the edge. Both players engaged in a fierce struggle as they stood face to face. Nevertheless, Gopichand maintained his composure in the game's tiebreakers to win the match 17-14, 17-15.

In the final, Gopi was up against Chen Hong of China, who had a great tournament. But the Indian won the match 15-12, 15-6 to become the second Indian to win the All England Open.

Saina Nehwal, runners-up 2015

In 2015, Saina Nehwal entered the All England Championship as the third seed. She, therefore, received a favourable draw and faced Bellaetrix Manuputty of Indonesia in the opening round. She easily defeated her with a score of 21-8 and 21-12 in two games. She played South Korean Kim Hyo-Min in the second round and defeated her 21-15, 21-15 with minimal difficulty.

She had to compete against China's fifth-seeded Wang Yihan in the quarterfinals, though. While the first game was tight, she remained composed to win it 21-19. Nehwal upped her game a level in the second and defeated Yihan 21-6. Saina defeated Chinese shuttler Sun Yu 21-13, 21-13 in the semifinals.

Going into the final, Saina was the centre of attention since she was attempting to enter the annals of history. The first Indian woman to win the All England Open was only one victory away from happening. The sixth-seeded Carolina Marin of Spain was her opponent. She got off to a fast start and won the opening match 21-16. Her on-court actions slowed down, and she ultimately dropped the final two games 14-21, 7-21.

Lakshya Sen, runners-up 2022

Lakshya had a dream tournament in 2022 where he managed to beat the likes of Anders Antonsen and Lee Zii Jia to make it to the final of the tournament. That also made him the first Indian badminton player since Gopichand in 21 years to advance to the All England Open men's final.

Viktor Axelsen, however, ended his amazing streak. Sen, competing in his first BWF Super 1000 final, was defeated by the gold medalist from the Tokyo Olympics 21-10, 21-15 in 53 minutes.

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