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Sunday, June 20, 2021

All England Open 2020: Titles are the ultimate Lakshya

A good start at the All England is only just a good start for 20-year-old Lakshya Sen

Written by Shivani Naik |
Updated: March 13, 2020 1:52:39 pm
Playing his maiden All England Open Lakshya showed some gutsy moves against former World No 1 Viktor Axelsen only to lose both the games closely. (BAI/Twitter)

* Anup Sridhar dumped out Taufik Hidayat from a World Championship in 2005.

* B Sai Praneeth ousted Lee Chong Wei from opening round of All England in 2016 and has a 1-0 head to head against Toufik Hidayat from 2013.

* HS Prannoy got stuck into Ginting, Chong Wei and Chen Long back to back to back in one wild week at Indonesia.

* Kidambi Srikanth, of course, won the China Open at an age close to what Lakshya Sen is now, scalping Lin Dan famously in the final and Kento Momota in the quarters.

India’s had its flashes of brilliance and more.

But for Lakshya Sen, to merely end up throwing shade on his predecessors with his exhilarating style of play, might simply not suffice. For Indian badminton, pampered for a decade with tournament titles and intermittent big scalps by its men’s singles players, the emergence of a new name is a source of great glee.

Compared to Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, India’s men’s singles contenders have had to labour to reach their own milestones; an Olympic quarterfinal, a Commonwealth Games title, a Top 5 rappel, a World No 1 brag and finally last year, a World Championship bronze, after 36 years.

Title victories at highest levels (not to be confused at lower tier which get misleadingly applauded without discerning) are still sparse and consistency across multiple seasons still an aspiration for India’s men’s singles.

It is against this backdrop that one needs to put Lakshya Sen’s flutter at the All England into perspective: he started with an upset on Wednesday ofcourse and got under Viktor Axelsen’s skin quite often.

But the 21-17, 21-18 loss was still a straightforward straight sets win for the big Dane. And if India has to set its bar high for the 20-year-old Sen, then one will have to spell out how quickly and how much he’ll have to learn the tricks of the trade if he doesn’t want to sit smug ruling over the small pond of Indian badminton, and look for genuinely world-beating capabilities.

There’s pitfalls galore while climbing that stairway — leapfrogging to Top 30 can happen comfortably, flying under the radar, shaving off milli-spots to reach Top 10 or 5, has not been found to be particularly easy by his predecessors.

There’s two names on the circuit – the grandly named Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka and the former All England finalist Kenichi Tago who ran some feisty campaigns, before fizzling out. It’s early days still for Lakshya in his freshman year at the seniors. But the loss to Viktor held all the pointers he needs to be wary of, should he want to break through the clutter and make a real mark.

For one, Lakshya played with a shoulder a tad sore from all the arm-whirring against Lee Cheuk yesterday. At the top level – with unerring players like Viktor and Chen Long and the Japanese led by the control-masters like Momota – second day diminishing returns, can spell a loss.

Fluent and hitting freely on Wednesday against a second tier player (ranked 18), Lakshya suddenly came up against an opponent whose lifts were deliberately shallow – finding it tough to hit through him.

“At the highest level, he’ll learn the importance of patience” says coach Vimal Kumar, adding that it was a crash course in learning when to attack or when to defend — things Lakshya will no doubt learn on his fidgety feet.

It takes swallowing of immense attitude, to accept that he wont always get opponents playing a style or pace to his liking. “He will need to nullify this attack that happens over long punishing rallies,” Vimal says.

It’s when his staying power — the core of any badminton career – will get tested. As rallies prolong, maintaining that fast steady pace, while gasping for breath, to recover your normal breathing and then launch an attack is an everyday bread-n-butter issue of top-flight badminton.

Lakshya should get ample opportunities should the Swiss Open and Indian Super 500 take off. But it’s when playing the top guys that the good ones learn Plan B when their dazzling attack doesn’t work. Keeping his head down, Lakshya will be expected to learn how then to keep the shuttle down.

“Even today at crucial points, he scored some fantastic winners. But then he gave away easy points,” Vimal explains.
It’s second nature for the top players to draw out errors from the end of long taxing rallies.

“He’ll have to learn that a good tournament is not two good days, but 5 good ones.”

While Vimal is happy that Lakshya was fearless for most part, he could’ve been a little more aggressive at the net – especially smothering Axelsen’s counter-dribble.

The likes of Viktor, Chen Long and Momota are unforgiving of anything short. “He played well and did not get overawed. I still felt he could have attacked a little more on the forehand side of Viktor.” The Dane kept a good unhittable length and there was more drift in the hall than yesterday, Vimal reckons. “This slightly unsettled Lakshya,” he admitted.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Indian singles players have faced is being felled by injury. “He’ll need to take care of his body..and we’ll have to find him the perfect trainer for his recovery sessions and to avoid injuries.”

Finally, it’s his mind that’ll need to not get swamped by all the gushing coming his way now that he’s looked at as the man to take forward India’s men’s singles baton.

Remembering that Srikanth, Sai and Prannoy too brought a head rush to their followers in the past and things went downhill, will come handy.

“He shouldn’t feel satisfied,” Vimal says with a nervous laugh. “He’s made an impression but he’ll be judged finally on titles he wins.”

Indian fans better learn to scale up their expectations from those annointed crown princes and heirs in waiting. Lakshya has some distance to go before his coronation can be proclaimed.

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