Nandkumar Mahadev Natekar, who died today at age 88, was a superstar badminton player of the first two decades after Independence, much before Prakash Padukone and Syed Modi entered the scene.
Famous as Nandu Natekar, he was the first Indian to win an international badminton title, at the Selangor International in Kuala Lumpur in 1956, and was a six-time national champion.
Known for his grace and artistry on the court — and not power and speed during an era when players were not extremely athletic – Natekar led India in the Thomas Cup team championship from 1951 to 1963. When the Arjuna Award for excellence in sport was first given in 1961, he was among the sportspersons honoured.
Natekar’s six national singles titles are exceeded only by Padukone (9) and Syed Modi (8).
His best show at the All England Championships was reaching the quarterfinals in 1954 — falling short of the achievement of the now-forgotten Prakash Nath, who had reached the final in 1947. Nath could well have become the first great of Indian badminton but after hearing of rioting near his home in Lahore just before the All England final, he lost the title match and gave up the sport.
Natekar was a very good tennis player, too, but after losing the junior national final to the great Ramanathan Krishnan in 1951-52, he decided to concentrate on badminton.