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Lakshya Sen – The Answer to Indian Badminton's 'Who's Next?' Question

Lakshya Sen had finished third at the 2021 World Championship, and on Sunday, won the 2022 India Open title.

Updated
Badminton
5 min read
Lakshya Sen – The Answer to Indian Badminton's 'Who's Next?' Question
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Lakshya Sen is no stranger to high altitude. Almora, his home, is a good 1,642 m above the sea level. The young lad took his early lessons in badminton from his dad at a lone court in the sleepy town, high up the Kumaon Hills of Uttarakhand.

Despite enduring lung-busting matches in the quarters and semis, Lakshya was more than ready for the challenge against reigning world champion Loh Kean Yew in the final of the Indian Open on Sunday.

The 20-year-old overcame a bout of nerves in both the games to upend his seasoned rival and secure the biggest title of his developing career. Lakshya was leading 19-14 in the first game and 16-11 in the second, before addressing brief stutters to force his way to a memorable victory. The 17th-ranked Indian defeated the Singaporean 24-22, 21-17 for the Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2022, a Super500 on the BWF calendar. The victory could be a stepping stone for one of the biggest stars emerging out of the badminton scene in India.

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In the Genes

The Sen family has been foraging for excellence with generational zeal. Badminton was a constant in the family, with grandfather Chandra Lal Sen taking to the sport during his time. Dhiren (DK) Sen, an accredited national coach with the Sports Authority of India, extended the connection. Chirag Sen, elder brother to Lakshya, achieved measurable success as a teenaged prospect, and now, Lakshya seems to have imbibed all of that, rapidly climbing into the elite ranks of world badminton.

“Lakshya was competitive, even as a nine-year-old boy. Vimal Kumar noticed his talent and skills as soon as he watched him play, taking him into Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) along with Chirag. Even though he was still developing his skills, his intensity carried him through those early days,” said the delighted father, about his early days of development.

“Initially, we could only get him three weeks at PPBA, when his grandfather accompanied him to Bengaluru in 2010. But once he got a taste for life at the academy, it was hard to contain his enthusiasm and energy.”

Early Success, and a Training Stint With Axelsen

The silver at the Youth Olympics in 2018 opened a door. Lakshya went to Denmark to train with Morten Frost, winning the Dutch and Belgian Opens under the watchful eye of the Dane. The climb has been steep since then. Lakshya made a big leap in 2019, jumping from outside the top 100 to the 51st position in the world in just seven months.

Even though the pandemic derailed some of his progress, the young lad kept his head down and continued to grind. It was an important phase of his physical development, and the team at Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) protected his regimen to ensure his continued development.

Lakshya was known for a relentlessly aggressive style during his younger days, but it was a high-risk strategy that was proving expensive as he rose through the ranks. The mental adjustment to stay patient and construct his rallies has been among the biggest early stage transformations, at the root of his development as an elite player.

The development of the youngster received a massive fillip at the end of the Olympics. Viktor Axelsen invited five players to train with him at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai. The Dane moved base to the desert city, sparring in September with Toby Penty, Lakshya Sen, Loh Kean Yew, Brian Yang, and Felix Burestedt.

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India Open 2022: A Big Win at Home

The experience afforded the Indian an inside view of the diligent approach of the World No.1 at the height of his powers. Some of those lessons proved handy in the final against Loh Kean Yew.

“His attitude was key,” explained coach and parent, DK Sen. “Going into the match, we spoke to Lakshya about avenging previous losses to Loh. The two have already met four times, and practised together in Dubai, so they had a fair amount of knowledge of each other’s game.”

“It helped Lakshya to have a specific desire to defeat Loh. It served as a small goal for him and helped him focus on the points and the match. I also spoke to him of the need to play with ‘josh’, but most importantly retain ‘hosh’. I am very happy he stuck to the game plan and secured his first 500 title.”

20-year-old Lakshya Sen won his maiden India Open title by beating the reigning World Champion.

(Photo: BAI)

Since his emergence as a teenage wonder in 2018, Lakshya has shown remarkable development physically and mentally. The youngster has added a measure of caution to his game plan, and tightened his net game. This has helped him reduce the room for errors and enhanced his ability to deal with the shuttle when it is behind him without the urgency that afflicted his game during those formative years.

“I thought he played a very mature game today. He was dictating the pace of the rallies and keeping the contest on his racket,” explained Vimal Kumar, about some of the keys to his success in the final. “Lakshya controlled the net, and did not allow the space for Loh Kean Yew to attack. Lakshya was also able to mix his pace well, to keep Loh under check.”

Interestingly, the Indian was comfortably ahead in both games before allowing the Singaporean to inch closer during the closing phase of both the games. “I felt nervous, as I started to think about the win,” confessed Lakshya, when asked about the match situations at 19-14 in the first game and 16-11 in the second. “Fortunately, I could take short breaks to gather myself and deal with the nerves.” Miles

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Lakshya Sen celebrates after winning the 2022 India Open men's singles final.

(Photo: BAI)

Miles to Go

With the first victory under his belt and a string of competitive matches against some of the best players in the world, Lakshya Sen is rapidly evolving into a persistent threat on the circuit. The experience this week should also prove handy to the young man as he looks to produce a meaty season of results.

The Syed Modi India International is his next stop. After that, he will have some time to prepare for the All England Championships in March, with another stint in Dubai with Axelsen. As the season progresses, he should be in a healthy place for a substantive return from the Commonwealth and Asian Games later this year.

The self-avowed goal of breaking inside the top 10 is now well within his sights. As he continues his climb up the badminton world order, Lakshya promises to scale new peaks in international badminton. The journey with Lakshya promises to spin us all to the high altitudes to which he is so accustomed.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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