The third seeded Dane, having quelled his feisty opponent 21-11 21-15 to make the third round of the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2021, was amazed when he heard of Karunaratne’s longevity.
“That’s insane. That’s crazy (laughs). That’s incredible. I don’t think I would (play that long)… we’ll have to wait and see. But that’s a crazy accomplishment.”
For two decades now, Karunaratne has been synonymous with Sri Lankan badminton. His younger brothers Dinuka and Diluka too distinguished themselves in the sport; his youngest brother, Chamika, was a junior badminton champion before turning his attention to cricket.
Despite falling in straight games, Niluka was satisfied with the level he’d shown: “After such a hard time, not so much training, and then I could do well at the Olympics, and then training with the German team in Mulheim for six weeks, and to find my form and play a good match with one of the best players, I’m quite satisfied. I’m pretty happy and proud to represent my country at the World Championships again.”
The 36-year-old vividly recalls the 2001 edition of the World Championships: “Back then the Sudirman Cup and the World Championships were together. It was a nice time. I remember Hendrawan won the World Championships. I’m a huge Taufik fan, he’s my favourite player. I remember Hendrawan was playing Taufik in the semifinals and Taufik was leading by a few points and then he got an injury. He couldn’t move for the next point and had to retire. Hendrawan went into the final and beat Peter Gade.
“I don’t think in terms of standard, you can say there are better players than Taufik or Lee Chong Wei or Lin Dan or Peter Gade. I don’t think anyone can play at their intensity of quality of play. Like the World Championships 2011 final or Asian Games 2006 final, they were unbelievable intensity and quality. But the entertainment and money and sponsorships and the number involved in the game is more now. The sport has grown in participation. In women’s singles the sport has grown, the level is so high.”
What does he make of his two-decade long career?
“It’s a long career, it’s good to be back in Spain for the World Championships. My first was in Spain, in Seville. This is maybe my last World Championships. I’m happy that I could come this far.
“My career is more than 20 years. I want to play the Commonwealth Games for my country so I can finish my career with a remarkable event. I have played three Olympics, defeated four top 20 players, and I’ve won International Series and International Challenger events, so I would love to finish my career in a big event and say goodbye.”