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Friday, January 28, 2022

Lakshya Sen last Indian standing in men’s singles semifinals

Lakshya Sen nicked bragging rights off HS Prannoy who started furiously, but couldn’t hulk out and play the enforcer in the decider, going down 14-21, 21-9, 21-14.

Written by Shivani Naik |
January 15, 2022 9:00:21 am
Lakshya SenLakshya Sen in action at the India Open in New Delhi (BAI)

Lakshya Sen’s verdict on the new Spiderman movie is comparative: “People said it’s better than Avengers: Endgame or Infinity War. It’s good but not that good,” he says.

Sen had endured a bread-and-butter-earning busy work week at Huelva in Spain last month, pulling off three-game matches, while the franchise spin-off hit theatres. Once home in Almora, he’d go and check it out for himself.

For the last six months, while scything at a bunch of known names, the World Championships bronze medallist has been appraising for himself the relative abilities of his peers. Never mind the frozen rankings of his sport which are holding tight many reputations, akin to Captain America in a cryogenic chamber.

On Friday, quarterfinals day at the India Open Super 500 in New Delhi, Sen nicked bragging rights off HS Prannoy who started furiously, but couldn’t hulk out and play the enforcer in the decider, going down 14-21, 21-9, 21-14. His contender aspirations, gone in 60 minutes.

So, Sen has emerged as the only Indian men’s singles shuttler to make the semifinals and make any decent use of India hosting the event. The win came after he faltered twice – at 13-all and 15-all – in the high-octane opening game on “silly errors”, lacking in composure, as the pace got pushed.

Then he quickly turned it around, as is his wont, suited up in the virtue of patience, and took Prannoy apart, facing little resistance. The pace of exchanges, ironically, dropped, suiting Sen.

He knew he was trailing on account of silly errors. But Sen is riding an immense wave of self-assurance. “I was always confident that I’m playing the rally well. My coach (Korean Yong Sung Yoo) also told me not to worry and the game is still 50/50.” It’s that sort of a conviction coursing through his veins, and Prannoy, despite the good defence that Sen acknowledges, most likely felt the full force of it, as he crumbled as soon as Sen came from behind and strung together a decent lead. The door gently, but decisively, shut.

Sen is coming off a 10-day break at home in Uttarakhand. The first 3-4 days were release/massage sessions on the physio’s table. “It was nice to go back home after the medal where people were on the road to welcome me,” he says. He’d meet Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami before returning to training, “taking it slow.”

Against Prannoy, Sen went with a 1-1 head-to-head record. He’d beaten Prannoy at the 2017 Nationals, and then lost at a selection ranking event in 2019. The win on Friday might edge him to India No. 2 spot in popular consciousness, leapfrogging other seniors.

Malaysian blitz next

Sen has spent a fortnight training alongside Olympic and World champions, Viktor Axelsen and Loh Kean Yew last year. He’s just starting to get acquainted with Yong at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy.

He’s quietly sealed a semis berth at the India Open, even as Sai Praneeth and Srikanth were snared by Covid, and packed off Prannoy. But there’s an immensely competent 21-year-old Malaysian, NG Tze Yong, who stands in his path to the final – a possible face-off with the World Champion Lo.

Tze Yong is tipped to catapult onto the regular circuit, making the Top 30, on the back of titles at Scottish, Polish and Belgian Opens. But more than the points crunching, Tze Yong took Indonesian Jonatan Christie through a 75-minute wringer in the high-pressure Malaysia-Indonesia Thomas Cup sizzle.

Sen had found Srikanth’s tricky net and superior attack a tad difficult to get past in the Worlds semis, he admits. And Tze Yong uses his backhand – parallel to the ground – to flick the shuttle around quite deftly from the forecourt.

The Malaysian has a heavy cross smash, and a very controlled cross-reverse slice, and plays at that discomfiting pace that can rush opponents. For once, Sen might hold the advantage of experience having been on the circuit for a few years now. But it’ll be a grave folly to start rubbing hands in anticipation of a Loh final, and not keep eyes open for the immediate threat of the Malaysian whom he beat easily in Bangladesh two years ago.

Sen’s stated goal is to stay injury-free in the new season. He knows results will follow. But he’ll not want nasty surprises in the form of a World No. 60 Malaysian who’s been under the radar, but landed in India to pack off seasoned Indonesian Tommy Sugiarto.

Sen would want to see for himself, where his Malaysian contemporary stands. There’s a place in the endgame-final to be secured.

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