Lakshya Sen: growing in stature after All England run

A bronze medal at the World Championships, a semifinal appearance at the BWF World Tour Finals, and a title win at India Open BWF World Tour Super 500 have all come during the last six months for Lakshya Sen. And he is hungry for more.

On the right track: The rigours of practice, years of mental training, and the focus on fitness have helped him bounce back after tough losses and stay largely injury­free while also trying to fulfil his target of playing 18­20 tournaments a year.   -  AFP

Self­-belief.

You will find this word in Lakshya Sen’s vocabulary a lot these days. The word has helped him achieve incredible results over the last six months — the latest, a second­-place finish at the All­-England Badminton Championships. He defeated 2021 champion Lee Zii Jia in the semifinal to inch closer to emulating his mentor Prakash Padukone at the hallowed halls in Birmingham, but World No. 1 Viktor Axelsen halted his charge in the final. Only the previous week, the 20­-year­-old Indian had reached the German Open final after beating Axelsen in the semifinal. 

A bronze medal at the World Championships, a semifinal appearance at the BWF World Tour Finals, and a title win at India Open BWF World Tour Super 500 have all come during the last six months. World champion Loh Kean Yew has also been among his victims. 

“Self­-belief is there now. After beating such players, you know you can do it again. On your good playing day, you can beat any of the good players in the world. The past results have given me a lot of belief to go out there and play,” Lakshya says. 

How travelling alone toughened up Lakshya Sen  

What brought about the change?

“Not a lot of tournaments were happening due to the pandemic. I took that time to grow the physical aspect of my game. We also got a lot of time to do off-season training. That way, I really took it to the next level. 

“Last year when the tournament started, I was in good shape. The fitness level was extremely good. So, that also helped me pull through a lot of tournaments. The tournaments where I played against big players also gave me a lot of confidence, especially the three tournaments in Indonesia where I clashed against [Kento] Momota twice and [Viktor] Axelsen once. Even though the results were not that good, they were close games. In one of the matches, I was even a game­-point up. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the world championships. From there on, the results also came. The world championship bronze medal boosted my confidence,” he says.

Lakshya has been a proven performer since his junior days. As he went about vanquishing opponents and collecting medals at Asian Championships (gold), World Championships (Bronze), Youth Olympic Games (mixed team gold), the World No. 1 junior was expected to be India’s next biggest badminton star. But not all make the smooth transition from junior to the senior circuit. 

Lakshya, however, has had no such trouble. 2019 was his first full season as a senior player and he made rapid strides by winning three back­-to­-back tournaments Belgian International Challenger, Dutch Open Super 100, and Saarlorlux Open Super 100. He started believing in himself. 

Sen breaks into world's top 10; Treesa-Gayatri reach career-best ranking in doubles  

“Since I started playing, I knew this is what I wanted to do. There are a lot of tournaments I won as a junior which gave me a lot of belief, but the transition wasn’t going to be easy. I won two back­-to­-back Super 100 and one challenger event and that proved to be a game­-changing moment for me. I got a lot of belief from it,” he says.  Will self­-belief suffice? Of course not.  Lakshya, under the tutelage of Vimal Kumar and the mentorship of Prakash Padukone, has been putting in the hard yards at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bengaluru. The day starts at 6 a.m. with cardio training followed by on­-court sessions. A longer evening session ensues with gym, skill training and recovery sessions. Rest, when needed, has also been factored in. 

Safe hands: Lakshya Sen with Prakash Padukone. The youngster, under the tutelage of Vimal Kumar and the mentorship of Padukone, has been putting in the hard yards at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bengaluru.   -  PPBA

 

“Vimal Sir is always there for the training sessions. With Prakash Sir, I sit down and watch a lot of matches with him and note down points,” the shuttler from Almora, Uttarakhand says.  It is also supplemented with training stints in Denmark and Dubai, including sparring sessions with top players like Axelsen and Kean Yew.  “Training in Asia is a little bit different than training in Europe. I was in Denmark for three­-four months in 2019. It’s a lot more intense. In Asia, the focus is more on on­-court training and running. A mixture of both is good for the player. When we go for stints with players like Axelsen, our main aim is to spar more on the court. You certainly don’t get to learn about their strength and weaknesses by training with them, but quality sparring sessions help with match practice,” he says.

The rigours of practice, years of mental training, and the focus on fitness have helped him bounce back after tough losses and stay largely injury­free while also trying to fulfil his target of playing 18­-20 tournaments a year.  “About 10 years ago, I used to cry if I lost. I have done mental training since 12 or 13. Now, I just accept and move on. I take it as another opportunity to learn. If it is a big or a tough match, it is certainly hard to take, but you must move on. Never get too disheartened by a loss and never be too happy with the victories. I try to do that.” 

While enjoying the spotlight, he is certainly not losing sight of the future. “There are a lot of things I did well in the last few tournaments. I would like to do it consistently and keep this form going into the other tournaments as well. There is a lot of scope for improvement. Playing much more patiently, constructing rallies, not giving too many easy points, and playing consistently — I would like to work more on that. The focus of the team is to not get injured and play a lot of tournaments to gain experience,” he says.  He will next compete in the Korea Open, a Super 500 World Tour event in April, before returning to India to prepare for the Asian Championships and Thomas Cup. It is a packed calendar for Lakshya. Success beckons.