Mumbai: Nandu Natekar, the first Indian shuttler to win a title abroad in 1956 in Malaysia, and the first recipient of the Arjuna award in 1961, died on Wednesday in Pune. He was 88 years old. Natekar’s son Gaurav is a seven-time national tennis champion.
Prior to the arrival of Prakash Padukone, Natekar was the man behind the emergence of Indian badminton in the 1950s. As the first Indian shuttler to win a title abroad, he won the men’s singles title at the Selangor International Tournament in Kuala Lumpur in 1956. In 1961, he received the first Arjuna Award and was voted India’s most popular sportsperson.
His most notable win came in 1958 when he upset World No.1, Erland Kops, to win the CCI Open. He was the first Indian shuttler to break into the top five rankings in the world and defeated all the top players in the world at the time. During his 12-year career, he won over 100 national and international titles for India. Besides winning the men’s singles and doubles titles six times each, he also won the mixed doubles crown five times.
In 1954, which was also the only year he participated in the competition, he reached the quarterfinals of the prestigious All England Championships. He won the doubles competition of the event in the veteran’s category in 1980 and 1981 and finished second in 1982. Between 1951 and 1963, he led India thrice in the Thomas Cup — in 1959, 1961, and 1963 — winning 12 out of 16 singles matches and 8 out of 16 doubles matches.
Natekar was born on May 12, 1933, in Sangli. The player revealed to Scroll in 2017 that he was good at both tennis and badminton at the beginning, but quit tennis after losing in the final of a junior national championship to Ramanathan Krishnan, and realized that he was doing better at badminton. Cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, from Mumbai, reacted by saying, ‘Oh oh oh, that’s terrible news,’ when TOI broke the news of Natekar’s passing.
Natekar first played for India at the age of 20 in 1953. He was an alumnus of Ramnarain Ruia College in Mumbai, an institution that produced top Mumbai cricketers like former India captain Ajit Wadekar, Chandu Patankar, Lalchand Rajput and Raju Kulkarni. Natekar served as a Public Relation Officer (PRO) for Hindustan Petroleum and was also a member of the Maharashtra State Sports Council. Natekar Sports & Fitness was founded in Pune by him. At Bangkok’s King’s Cup International Tournament in 1962, Natekar and Meena Shaw won the mixed doubles title. In 1963, he won the Men’s Singles title as well. In 1965, he represented India at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica. The IBF honored him with the ‘Meritorious Service Award’ in 1989.
‘It is with deep sorrow that we inform you that our beloved father Nandu Natekar passed away on 28th July 2021. The purpose of our condolence meeting will not be to address the COVID-19 guidelines. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers. You are welcome to share your memories of him at [email protected],’ his daughters, Sangeeta Welinkar and Nishigandha Mathur, and son Gaurav Natekar said in a message on Wednesday.