March 28, 2019 5:13:34 am
Brice Leverdez would have, in all likelihood, been a journeyman throughout his career had it not been for one magical hour and a bit in Glasgow in August 2017. The first-round meeting was expected to be a cakewalk for the Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei, however, turned out to be anything but so.
Though the Frenchman had beaten the three-time Olympic silver medallist previously – at the Denmark Open the year before – this was the World Championships where the cream comes out on top. But Leverdez had not read that script.
For Chong Wei, it was another bitter disappointment at a tournament he has never won, but the result changed the course of the victor’s career as well. “I was contemplating retirement around that time, but all of a sudden I beat Lee Chong Wei at such a big stage and realised I still had love for the gamer and wanted to go to the Olympics again,” Leverdez said.
In fact, he had already started planning for the day when he moved away from the badminton court. “I had started an online store selling garments in 2015, but I’ve put that venture on hold for the time being, in consultation with my national federation, to focus totally on my game.”
The sport is not a lucrative one in France, and had it not been for his stint in the Premier Badminton League, he would probably have hung up his racquet by now.
“These leagues are very good. They make the sport a bit more financially viable.
France hosts a major Superseries event, but players who have made a mark on the sport have been few and far between of late.
“Badminton is quite popular in France. Clubs remain full of players. I myself have been playing at my childhood club Creteil since 2004, but not many play at a competitive level. Also, there are not enough courts as sports such as basketball, handball and netball get priority,” Leverdez said.
Badminton is largely an Asia-dominated sport with not more than one European player inside the top 10 at most times. In men’s singles, that player has often been Danish. At No. 27, Leverdez is the highest-ranked European after four Danes.
At 32, he still had the energy to prevail in three games against Chinese 21-year-old Zhou Zeqi in 57 minutes. “I don’t feel my age. I’ve worked on my fitness and am in good shape to play the game. My style of play cannot afford any errors as it is based on consistency and counter-attack. It puts pressure on opponents and forces them to make mistakes,” he said. “My technique is different now than when I was 20. I’ve got more tactical now.”
Son of a judo professional, Leverdez took up badminton at the age of 12 after an injury left him unable to pursue the combat sport. Though he has represented France at the London and Rio Olympics, he has not been able to make a significant mark, being eliminated at the group stage on both occasions. If he makes it to Tokyo, Leverdez will strive to go for his dream of an Olympic medal.
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