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Friday, October 23, 2020

Denmark Open: Lakshya Sen reboots without a glitch as badminton restarts

On Tuesday, marking badminton's stuttering return, Lakshya Sen chose to mix his smashes with soft touches to befuddle his opponent, who was expecting strokes raining down in a revved up rush.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Updated: October 14, 2020 4:23:23 pm
India badminton player Lakshya Sen. (Source: File)

In keeping with the non-fussed return of international badminton post the pandemic, India’s Lakshya Sen kept his game against Christo Popov of France, very compact. A 9 am start to the Denmark Open at Odense with no crowds permitted, saw the young Indian beat the 18-year-old, 21-9, 21-15 in 36 unhurried minutes.

Celebrated commentator Gill Clark whose squeals of glee accompany any significant TV broadcast of shuttle, called the first match of the first morning session enthusiastically. But except for a diving retrieve by Sen where the returning shuttlecock smacked his forehead and he fell back comically, there was little even for Clark to chortle.

A steady defense, some new service variations and a nuanced attack from Sen saw Popov — who also plays doubles with his brother — wilting away in the opener. But what surprised the Frenchman was Sen’s newest understated weapon — the slow drop shots. When last sighted at the All England going down all guns blazing against Viktor Axelsen, Sen had been seen sending forth a flurry of hard-hit shots.

On Tuesday, marking badminton’s stuttering return after a bunch of tournament cancellations, Sen chose to mix his smashes with soft touches to befuddle his opponent, who was expecting strokes raining down in a revved up rush.
After Sen’s 21-9 domination, Popov kept up till 10-11 in the second. But despite a clutch of long rallies, Sen’s shot selection – especially in sending the shuttle back precisely after good net play – gave him swift control of the finishing game.

“I felt very confident,” he would say later.

Not having the crowds didn’t feel normal, Sen reckoned. Later, Carolina Marin was typically abrasive in knocking off opponent Natalia Perminova, and looked like she could leap over the weekdays in long strides to straightaway meet Nozomi Okuhara in Sunday’s finals. Atypically though in her 28-minute stomping, the absence of crowds saw her barely roar herself into her usual frenzy that erupts no matter who is her prey of the day.

Lakshya, on the other hand, stayed blaise. The 20-year-old tends to get flustered when he misjudges shuttles on the line. On Tuesday, he recouped better after a pair of these close calls, while his usually sagging body language didn’t betray wavering of focus.

Hardly any mask-wearers

Sen would later say Odense felt oddly “normal” and unscarred, though movement of shuttlers in BWF’s fluid bubble is restricted to the hotel-stadium precinct. His flight to Paris was almost full and though Indians are maintaining hyper-caution as they must, Odense isn’t exactly taut with nervous tension.

“At the stadium and hotel, masks are compulsory, but if we look outside the window, or when passing markets or malls, 90-95 percent aren’t wearing masks,” DK Sen, Lakshya’s father would say.

Lakshya had been eager to resume tournament play, and refrained from venturing anywhere out of the “green zone” of the bubble. The BWF bubble allows for earmarked grocery stores and restaurants close to their lodging. The Danish organisers have assigned country-wise tables at breakfast for all contingents.

Prior to flying out, Sen had spent an extended stint propping up his fitness, though his father insists that workout routines needed to be innovated to keep the restless youngster hooked to the task. “It was important when working on endurance, he stayed interested and didn’t feel the burden of fitness work. We had a few 2-hour long dance sessions where we danced to pahaadi / Punjabi songs to get through the monotony,” DK Sen says.

On other days, the two Sen boys – Chirag and Lakshya were given intra-family duels – skipping or core strengthening exercises.

Sen next plays Hans-Kristian Vittinghus, but is looking further afield to extending his stay in Europe to train with Danish legend Peter Gade for a couple of weeks. “We’ll work on my deceptive strokes,” he informs.

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