Morten Frost: Badminton in transition, 'becoming a lot more like tennis'

Frost: So happy to have swayed into coaching (2:41)

Danish badminton legend Morten Frost on the developments in Indian badminton and his time as a coach. (2:41)

In a sparse, white conference room in a northern corner of Bangalore, Morten Frost said plainly, "I owe Prakash possibly everything."

Frost had former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand on his right and Prakash Padukone and former national champion Vimal Kumar on his left. It was among Frost's first remarks announcing his partnership with the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) housed at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sport Excellence.

Frost made the announcement like he had played - with the lightness of spirit that matched his on-court movement: in a low voice, a simple, swift pronouncement, a tribute made with a style that had dominated the badminton of his day. Where competitiveness and "fierce" rivalries were played out without noise, where men and women could spill their guts out in trying to defeat each other but remain, "pleasant... civilised."

Frost, now 60, was to go onto say that Padukone, three years older, had been "instrumental in my rise to the top." Between 1978 and 1991, the "Great Dane" "Mr Badminton" was to win four All England titles from eight finals, 40 international titles and make two world championship finals. "I was a good player when he (Prakash) arrived in Denmark in 1980, but he sort of helped me to get to the very, very top."

The two men played for rival clubs in the Danish club league but would train together, five times a week, at a given time every morning. (Once a week with other players on either side.) What Frost found was a kindred spirit - driven, committed, and for whom playing was about succeeding, excelling, and trying for anything less was doing talent and ambition a disservice.

"Some people blame Prakash a lot that he gave his game away to me," Frost was to say to ESPN later, "and I overcame him, but I think, had he not done what he did, he would have not stayed at the top for as long as he did. I think it benefited him too."

The two have remained friends since, Frost the only rival Prakash has kept in touch with through playing, retirements and coaching careers. For their paths to cross again, with Frost tied in with the PPBA, is to close the circle that began when an Indian player took the bold step of landing up in Copenhagen on a "snowy December morning" nearly four decades ago.

Frost and Vimal Kumar will supervise the interaction between the juniors at the PPBA over 90-days-a-year across two years. Before Frost was to speak, Padukone had just finished describing his eye for young talent, having coached a generation of Danish players and then moved over to stints in Malaysia and South Africa. Padukone reminded the audience that Frost had trained "world champions and Olympic champions" in both Denmark and Malaysia, and had "a knack of identifying young players."

Frost's mission is to identify around "three to four" players among the PPBA trainees (between the ages of 17-20) who could be pushed, Frost said, "as much as possible." PPBA is in its 25th year and much will be expected from this luminous new guru. "If anyone loves the pressure," Frost said, "it must be me." On Tuesday, he was talking about having to speak last at the launch, but it could have been about anything to do with his badminton career.

At his time with the PPBA he will work to ensure a smooth transition into the seniors. It is when coaches, Frost said, must build on a junior's confidence in the mind and the pace of play in the body. "A coach's most important role is to identify a player's style and then try to optimise it. You can't get a stroke player to be a hard-hitting player and so on but you have to find a way of playing that suits a particular person and so it's all about looking at that individual."

Like everything he has done in the sport, Frost the coach is committed. Whole soul. "I really laugh and cry with my players. I am more nervous than they are and I completely identify with all the thoughts and feelings and whatever is inside. So when I'm sitting outside the court I am feeling a lot worse than they are." Every defeat and triumph resonates in Frost, and he recalls with glee, working with a seven-year-old called Anders Antonsen. In January this year, Antonsen went on to register the biggest victory of his career, defeating world No 1. Kento Momota in the final of the Indonesian Masters. Frost was doing the TV commentary for the game and found it hard to stay in his seat.

Frost quit playing in 1991, a year before the sport made its Olympic debut and through that, identified the biggest prize in its history. "My contracts and everything were running till 1992, but I felt that I had no more to give so I stopped in 1991. I knew that badminton was going to be in Barcelona, but it (retiring) was a conscious decision and I have no regrets."

Post-retirement, Frost has been a successful coach of Denmark's national team, done two stints in Malaysia's high-pressure badminton environment and seen structures operate around the world. Frost believes a period of players' independence - like in tennis - from their badminton associations has arrived sooner than he had thought. Badminton, he says, is in a transitional period.

"So far it has been BA(badminton associations)s running training setups that have proved to be very successful. I however think that times are changing and I think we will see many more players becoming independent, setting up their own training setups, travelling the world on their own, becoming a lot more like tennis." The increase of money available in the sport itself has led to players moving away from being controlled by their home associations. "A lot of players would like to set up their own way of training like to choose their own coaches, support groups." He had believed it would take "maybe 10-15 years' time" for that to happen, "but I already see that happening now."

For a new generation of the young lot being coached in the PPBA, in Morten Frost they couldn't have found a more forward thinking old master.