U. Vimal KumarIndia's Chief National Coach shares his views on badminton with P.K. Ajith Kumar

At 17, U. Vimal Kumar was forced to make the most important decision in his life. He had two career options in front of him: he could be a doctor, or he could be a waiter.

He was - in most people's opinion - crazy enough to say no to the profession which most of our school toppers still dream of joining. Because, he was crazy about badminton.

Well, one does not necessarily have to serve in hotels before becoming a badminton champion; but that was what Vimal did in England, as he tried to support himself while struggling to make a career in professional sport. "The decision wasn't tough for me at all, but there was pressure from my mother and some relatives who strongly felt it was foolish not to join the MBBS course," he told The Hindu at Kozhikode the other day. "I don't have any regrets though."

Why should he? He has twice won the French Open, played for India at the Olympics, been among the world's top 20 players for two years and is at present India's Chief National Coach. "Yes, I doubt if I could've achieved as much if I had become a doctor; I had an opportunity to train in England and I thought a medical seat was worth sacrificing for that," said Vimal who was in Kozhikode to watch the National junior badminton championship recently.

"I have many pleasant memories about this city. I won my first senior singles title here, way back in 1977. There was this open tournament conducted by Mavoor Gwalior Rayons and I played in the final of both the junior and senior singles final. I lost in the junior final to Koshy Muthalaly, who, by the way, did opt for a career in medicine though he was one of our most promising players in badminton ever."

He said he was pleasantly surprised to see so many spectators for the National juniors at Kozhikode. "I feel the organisers in Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, three cities where badminton has always been very popular, should take the sport to the masses more, by conducting outdoor tournaments."

Vimal said badminton in Kerala had come a long way since he first picked up a racket in his home in Thiruvananthapuram some four decades ago. "At that time there weren't this many players or tournaments. And there weren't good courts for the general public to play in Thiruvananthapuram; I was lucky that I was allowed to practise at the Sree Moolam Club."

Vimal, who is based in Bangalore where he works with his idol Prakash Padukone at the latter's well-known badminton academy, feels there is still room for improvement for Kerala in the sport.