Padukone was born on 10 June 1955 in Bangalore, Karnataka. His surname, Padukone, is the name of the village Padukone from where his family originates.
Padukone's first official tournament was the Karnataka state junior championship in 1962. Though he lost in the very first round, two years later he managed to win the state junior title. He changed his playing style into a more aggressive style in 1971, and won the Indian national junior title in 1972. He also won the senior title the same year. He won the National title consecutively for the next seven years. In 1978, he won his first major international title, the men's singles gold medal at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada. In 1979, he won the "Evening of Champions" at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
In 1980, he won the Danish Open, the Swedish Open and became the first Indian to win the men's singles title at the All England Championship with a victory over Indonesian rival Liem Swie King. He spent much of his international career training in Denmark, and developed close friendships with European players such as Morten Frost.