After 15 years in the sport, Peter Høeg Gade, 34, is still among the top 10 badminton players in the world, a force to be reckoned with. The Danish ace was world No. 1 from 1998 to 2001, and briefly regained the top spot in 2006.
In the face of challenges from younger, faster and stronger players, Gade’s immaculate reading of both the game and his opponent’s mind has helped him maintain his status as one of the top players in the world.
At the recently concluded Yonex Sunrise India Open Super Series in Delhi, Gade made it to the final, where he lost to Lee Chong Wei, a player six years younger—but not before taking a set off his opponent. Perhaps the most insightful testimonial came from Chong Wei himself, who said, “I hope I’m even playing at his (Gade’s) age.” Edited excerpts from an interview with Gade:
Seasoned: Denmark’s Peter Gade, 34, doesn’t have a coach. Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times
You have been on the badminton circuit for a really long time. How has the game changed in these years?
I have been playing competitive badminton since I was around 19. Although there are some players who are still around from that time, the game has indeed undergone major changes. For one, it has become faster. Secondly, there has been a tremendous increase in the variations in strokes. If you look at the top eight in the world, you’ll notice that all of them are complete players—attack, defence, everything else.
I have had to change my style accordingly. My game is not as attacking as it used to be and I have lost some of my explosiveness with age. It is hard being in the top rung nowadays. I am pleased about being there even at the age of 34, right along with the best Asian players.
Talking of Asian players, what do you have to say about the domination of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei?
To put it simply, they are the two best players in the world right now, apart from being among the greatest of all time. They never really seem to have a bad day. Chong Wei, on his day, when his self-confidence is high, is almost unbeatable. Lin Dan is more consistent mentally, and I guess that’s where he holds the edge. I would feel nice if I can beat them on my good day.
You’re possibly the only player in this tournament without a coach. Why is that?
It’s because of the finance. The Danish Badminton Association is supposed to provide one for me. Unfortunately, they have not. Being a family man now, and considering the amount of money spent on the sport, I cannot possibly afford a coach for myself. But I get by. The other day, for instance, it was a really kind Indian ladies’ singles player who helped me warm up.
Did you have a chance to look at the young Indian players in the Yonex Sunrise tournament? What do you think of them?
I did see them play. I think that they have a bright future awaiting them. What remains to be seen, though, is whether they will be able to get such good results in Europe, away from their home crowds.
Who were the players you looked up to or idolized while growing up?
Actually, I was a big fan of Michael Laudrup (the Danish soccer star) as a young boy. But as badminton became increasingly important for me, I fell in love with Indonesian Hariyanto Arbi’s attacking game—his thunderous smashes and aggressive attitude really caught my imagination.
How popular is Peter Høeg Gade in Denmark?
I’m popular (laughs). But I try to remain as down to earth as possible. People do tend to recognize me everywhere I go.
You seem to be extremely popular with Indian fans too.
Yes, Indian fans make up a sizeable percentage of the users on my personal website. I have only been here once before (the World Championship in Hyderabad, 2009), but I miss India very much. The people do cheer me a lot from the stands. I just wish there were more badminton fans at this venue. New Delhi is such a big city. Where are all the people?
How long are you going to stay in the game?
One more year, at the least. I’m not thinking beyond the Olympics right now. It might just be my last competitive tournament. After that I’ll take up coaching, apart from spending more time with my wife and two girls in Copenhagen.