All England Championships 2019: From Judy Devlin's exploits to Lin Dan's supremacy, legends who dominated tournament

Judy Devlin’s awesome record becomes even more daunting when it is ascertained that she won seven All England women’s doubles titles from 11 entries into the finals between 1954 and 1967.

Shirish Nadkarni March 03, 2019 17:46:24 IST
All England Championships 2019: From Judy Devlin's exploits to Lin Dan's supremacy, legends who dominated tournament
  • American Judy Devlin won the All England women’s singles crown a total of ten times between 1954 and 1967.

  • In contemporary times, when specialisation has set in, and singles players do not play doubles, and vice versa, most of the attention has been concentrated on China’s Lin Dan.

  • Among the women, the defending champion, Tai Tzu Ying, will be gunning for a hat-trick of titles, having won the 2017 title at the expense of Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon.

When the subject of the All England Badminton Championships comes up, one name invariably crops up in the discussion as the winner of most titles at this prestigious tournament – Indonesia’s Rudy Hartono, who won eight singles crowns in the nine years between 1968 and 1976, and thus broke the record of his immediate predecessor, Denmark’s Erland Kops, who had won the title seven times in the ten years between 1958 and 1967.

All England Championships 2019 From Judy Devlins exploits to Lin Dans supremacy legends who dominated tournament

Lin Dan holds the trophy following his victory over Lee Chon Wei in the singles final of the 2012 All-England Open badminton championships. AFP

Amazing as it would seem, Hartono cannot lay claim to the record of most title wins. That accolade goes to American Judy Devlin (later Mrs GCK Hashman), who won the All England women’s singles crown a total of ten times between 1954 and 1967, and also had the unprecedented distinction of featuring in each and every final in those 14 years, barring one year in 1965, when Englishwoman Ursula Smith beat Sweden’s Ulla Strand for the crown.

Devlin was an amazing stroke-player, and made very few unforced errors. She was known affectionately as ‘Little Red Dev’ for the flaming colour of her hair which she inherited from her Irish father, Frank Devlin, whom she idolised for the fact that he won 13 All England titles. Frank bagged the men’s singles crown six times between 1925 and 1931, including five times in a reel between 1925 and 1929; and seven men’s doubles titles in the years between the two World Wars.

No other shuttler comes even remotely close to Devlin’s record of ten All England singles titles, with the next best winning half a dozen crowns – Englishwomen Meriel Lucas, between 1902 and 1910, and Marjorie Barrett, between 1926 and 1931. In the post World War II era, the ones who have the maximum number of All England singles crowns are two players with four titles each – Japan’s Hiroe Yuki, between 1969 and 1977, and Indonesia’s Susi Susanti, between 1990 and 1994.

Judy Devlin’s awesome record becomes even more daunting when it is ascertained that she won seven All England women’s doubles titles from 11 entries into the finals between 1954 and 1967.

These included six crowns with her sister Sue (later Mrs. Peard), and one with Denmark’s Tonny Holst-Christensen, though she did not venture near the Mixed doubles. With 17 titles at the world’s most prestigious tournament, the Irish-American finished her career four ahead of her father.

A career that was even more astounding than the Devlins was that of England’s George Alan Thomas, whose record of most All England titles is unlikely to be ever broken. The man called ‘finis’ to his amazing quarter-century long career in 1928 at the ripe old age of 44, with 21 All England titles – four singles, nine doubles and eight mixed doubles.

The prolific and versatile Englishman, who was to give the Thomas Cup for international men’s team excellence to the world, did not let the absence of international competition in the five years of World War I (the All England was not held from 1915 to 1919) affect his competitive spirit. Thomas, who had played his first All England final with Ralph Watling as partner as a 19 year old in 1903, might have even won 30 All England titles, had the competition not been cancelled in the war years.

Sir George Thomas, incidentally, did not stop at badminton. He was also an outstanding tennis player, and reached the quarter-finals of the singles and the semi-finals of the men’s doubles at Wimbledon, just before World War I broke out. It was not just physical activity that characterised the baronet; he was also a canny chess player and represented England in global chess events.

Thomas’ female counterpart, as far as donating a trophy for international team competition goes, was compatriot Betty Uber, a doubles specialist who bagged a dozen All England paired titles – four women’s doubles and eight mixed doubles – in the period between 1929 and 1938, just before the onset of World War II.

In contemporary times, when specialisation has set in, and singles players do not play doubles, and vice versa, most of the attention has been concentrated on one man who has laid claim to being the greatest shuttler of all time – China’s Lin Dan, who has reached the All England singles final ten times between 2004 and 2018, and won the title on six occasions. The left-hander lost last year’s final to fellow-countryman Shi Yuqi in three tough games at 21-19, 16-21, 21-9, gradually fading away in the decider against a player more than a dozen years his junior.

Vying for his own share of the spotlight has been Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who might have been the undisputed world champion in any other era, but had the misfortune of being a contemporary of the great Lin Dan. Lee has won the crown four times from seven entries into the All England final, but may not be seen at this year’s competition as he is still to attain peak fitness after being confirmed to be in remission from nose cancer that ruined the whole of the 2018 season for him.

Among the women, the defending champion, Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu Ying, will be gunning for a hat-trick of titles, having won the 2017 title at the expense of Thailand’s 2013 world champion, Ratchanok Intanon, and the 2018 crown after beating Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi, both in straight games.

Although recent injury has shredded some of her aura of invincibility, Tai at her best can be more than a handful for any other player in the world. Her closest rival, Spain’s three-time world champion, Carolina Marin, is currently on an injury break, after having surgery on her right knee for an injury she suffered in the Indonesia Masters final against India’s Saina Nehwal.

Of the others, Thailand’s Intanon has shown signs in recent months of returning to the kind of form that had won her the 2013 world championship, and also catapulted her into her first All England final in 2013, against Denmark’s Tine Rasmussen. PV Sindhu and the two Japanese aces, Nozomi Okuhara and Yamaguchi, have not been anywhere near as dominating as in the previous two years; and the stage appears set for Tai to continue to hog the limelight at the Birmingham Arena.

As for India’s record at the All England, the country has thrown up two champions – Prakash Padukone in 1980 and Pullela Gopichand in 2001 – from five entries into the finals. Prakash Nath lost the 1947 final to Denmark’s Conny Jepsen at 7-15, 11-15, when he was unable to concentrate on the match after reading in the London newspapers that morning that his native Lahore had gone up in flames the previous night due to the riots that marked the Partition of India.

Prakash Padukone, who won the crown from defending champion Liem Swie King of Indonesia in 1980 with a 15-3, 15-10 rout, and ruined that speedy, hard-hitting player’s chances of winning four crowns in a row (Swie King had won the title in 1978 and ’79), himself succumbed to the Indonesian the following year at 15-9, 5-15, 6-15. Swie King eventually was to win the title thrice from seven forays into the finals; his losses were to Hartono in 1976, Denmark’s Flemming Delfs in 1977, Prakash in 1980 and Morten Frost in 1984.

The fifth All England finalist from India was the indefatigable Saina Nehwal, who stretched the then reigning world champion, Carolina Marin of Spain over the full distance before fading away in the decider of their long-drawn 2015 encounter, at 21-16, 14-21, 7-21. Saina’s recent form has been encouraging; and 2019 could well be the year when she makes a serious bid for the title that eluded her four years back.

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