Brice Leverdez aims to keep the French Tricolore flying high

On the sidelines of the Premier Badminton League (PBL)Frenchman Brice Leverdez spoke to Badzine about his career and hopes. By Umang Shah.  Photos: Premier Badminton League and Badmintonphoto French badminton […]

On the sidelines of the Premier Badminton League ()Frenchman spoke to Badzine about his career and hopes.

By Umang Shah.  Photos: Premier Badminton League and Badmintonphoto

French badminton star Brice Leverdez has been riding high ever since his break-out performance at the 2017 BWF World Championships in Glasgow where he stunned Lee Chong Wei in a scintillating first-round upset.

The 32-year old peaked at a career-high world ranking of 19 in July last year after making it to the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Open Super 750 tournament.  Winning the bronze medal at the European Championships in Huelva, Spain was another breakthrough for Leverdez as he bowed out to eventual champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the semis.  The singles player from the suburbs of Paris was instrumental in helping France reach the semi-finals of the European Men’s Team Championships in Kazan, Russia earlier in 2018 to get to the bronze medal position on the podium.

The Frenchman has a lot riding on his shoulders as the highest-ranked and most experienced men’s singles player in the Pune 7 Aces team, co-owned by Indian actress Taapsee Pannu and KRI Talent, which is based in the Indian city of Pune.

The fitness enthusiast also has a keen interest in sports like judo and football amongst others.  So much so that while surfing channels on television, he was fascinated to come across the contact team sport of Kabbadi, indigenous to the Indian subcontinent.  He spends his time teaching French to his PBL teammates when stuck in traffic during the travels.

Badminton’s popularity in France has been relatively lower than other European countries such as Denmark, England and Germany.  Badminton legend Peter Gade has also ended his stint as the Performance Director at the French Badminton Federation (FFBad) after three years.  A big title win might give an impetus to steal some attention of the nation which adores the sister racquet sport of tennis.  With the next-gen juniors at his heels, will Leverdez be the next big thing for Les Bleus since Pi Hongyan?

The excitement and anticipation were palpable among the spectators at the National Sports Club of India in Mumbai for the inaugural tie of the latest season of the PBL.  It turned out to be an off day for the new team Pune 7 Aces and their opponents Hyderabad Hunters ran away with all the points in the lopsided contest.

One of the thrilling encounters was the men’s singles match featuring Brice Leverdez and Lee Hyun Il; with the latter winning his “Trump Match” in two close games 15-14, 15-12.

Leverdez, the blue-eyed boy of French badminton, talked to Badzine’s Umang Shah in an exclusive interview the next morning, December 23rd, 2018, in Mumbai.

Badzine:   You turned out for the new team Pune 7 Aces in the first tie and you’ve played for the Chennai Smashers in the previous two seasons.  How has your experience of playing in the PBL been so far?

Brice Leverdez:  It’s always a pleasure to play here.  It’s a good atmosphere and setup.  Everything is nice for the show and the fans.  So as players, we like to play in those conditions.  Even though the result was not great, it’s still a good experience.

Badzine:   What are you looking forward to in this season of the PBL with the Pune side?

Leverdez:  This season, I’m looking to help my team reach the target – which is to win the PBL.  It’s the first time for the Pune 7 Aces, so I’ll try my best.  We didn’t start well in the first tie but we cannot do worse than what we did.  The luck was not with us as well.  It was close but everything went on [Hyderabad’s] side.  We will work hard and try to come back starting tomorrow.

Badzine:  Results-wise, 2018 has been a good year for you.  You won the bronze medal at the European Championships and reached your career-high world ranking.  How would you rate your performance in this season?

Leverdez:  I reached two of my goals this year.  It was great to accomplish two big achievements – the medal at the European Championships and to get to the top 20 in singles world rankings, I have never made it before.  Now I have to find a new target and work even harder to reach it, so it’s going to be interesting.

Badzine:  What goals have you set for the next BWF World Tour season in 2019?

Leverdez:  I want to win a better medal this time at the European Championships; even though it’s not going to be called that anymore, there will be another nomenclature for the tournament.  I’m looking forward to getting better results at the [erstwhile] Superseries [BWF World Tour Super 500 and above] and get my ranking higher than world #15.

Badzine:  You have been playing at tournaments and leagues in various Indian cities for a long time now.  So, has your perception about the Indian culture changed over the years?

Leverdez:  Yeah, it changed a little only because at the beginning, when you come here for the first time it’s pretty tough.  But you’re okay.  You’re not used to the culture and everything is different.  But now you get used to it, so you know how it works here.  You know how to be more patient.  You know how to understand the culture.  So, now everything is fine.  Just, there’s more patience.

Badzine:  Lots of players have voiced concerns about the hectic schedule on the re-structured BWF World Tour.  What is it about the PBL that makes the players come to India every year in the off-season, in your opinion?

Leverdez:  PBL is well-placed between the calendars.  Because obviously, the BWF calendar is very hectic with too many tournaments and it mostly favours the Asian players compared to the Europeans because there are a lot more tournaments in Asia.  I think that all of the players agree that playing the PBL in India is such a good moment.  Even though we are expected to play well, it’s still not giving points towards world rankings, so it’s another kind of pressure.  But it’s more like a show – you try to give your best without pressure and with a little bit of fun as well.

Badzine:  France has seen yourself, Lucas Corvée and now the next-generation of players like Toma Junior Popov.  What are your views about the youngsters and the future of French badminton?

Leverdez:  Yeah, the youngsters are always getting better and better.  We have a few good ones and hopefully, in the future, we will have more and the good ones now, they will reach higher results than what we did.

Badzine:  Let’s play a quick fun game with you now.  I’ll be throwing some questions at you and you need to answer very fast with the first thing that comes to your mind.  Ready?

Leverdez:  Alright, I’ll try.  I’m not good at this but I’ll try.

Rapid Fire Questions with Brice Leverdez –

Badzine:  What is your favourite food item from among Indian cuisine?

Leverdez:  It’s chicken curry!

Badzine:  If you had to play mixed doubles with an Indian player, who would you choose as your partner?

Leverdez:  I would choose Ashwini Ponnappa.

Badzine:  Who has been your badminton inspiration/idol?

Leverdez:  I would say, Lin Dan.

Badzine:  Since you also have your own apparel brand – Leverdez Paris, what does fashion mean to you?

Leverdez:  Fashion to me means elegance and bringing your own attitude.

Badzine:  If you were not a badminton player, what would you have done?

Leverdez:  If I was not a badminton player, I would have been a tennis player!

Badzine:  What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Leverdez:  Maybe when I beat Lee Chong Wei at the World Championships.

Badzine:  If you were the BWF President for a day, what is the one rule in badminton that you would like to change?

Leverdez:  That is a good question, there are many things we could change.  But one rule is to bring more ethics in the badminton world between the politicians and the players.

Badzine:  One reason why you love playing badminton?

Leverdez:  It’s a fast and complete game.  You need everything – smartness, physical ability, mental strength; so that’s why I love this game.

Umang:  Thank you so much for joining us.  Merci beaucoup!

Brice:  Thank you, bye-bye! All the best.


Umang Shah

About Umang Shah

Umang is a law student & consultant from Mumbai, India. He is an Olympic sports aficionado & amateur archer. When not watching television or listening to podcasts, he procrastinates about writing on badminton, tennis & archery. You can contact him at @Umang20294 on Twitter.