Lakshya Sen has just played the most delicate of net shots, dribbling the shuttle over the white cord at an angle that is far too acute for Anthony Ginting to return. Lakshya collapses on the green court at Bangkok’s Impact Arena, having propelled India to a 10 lead, an advantage that would go on to catalyse the country’s historic win over 14time winner Indonesia in the Thomas Cup final.
It has been almost a year since India’s maiden Thomas Cup win, and Lakshya has established himself as the torchbearer of Indian badminton. He is a confident young man, who shuttles between dizzying success and a normal life with effortless ease. His Instagram feed is dotted with images that gives his fans an entryway to his jetsetting life — where he is ‘just being myself’.
Lakshya hails from the small hilly town of Almora, Uttarakhand, that seems far removed from the hustle and bustle of Bengaluru, where he has been training at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy since he was 10.
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“I was very reluctant to allow Lakshya to move out of home. He was only 10 at that time. Obviously, as a father, I was worried about the negative influences that he could face in a big city. Thankfully, Lakshya is a disciplined boy, and has stayed focused purely on badminton all these years,” his father DK Sen had told Sportstar in 2018.
Currently, India has three players in the world’s top 25 bracket: H. S. Prannoy (9th), Srikanth (22nd), and Lakshya (23rd). Among them, Lakshya, at 21, promises to be the face of the sport in the next decade. At 30, Prannoy and Srikanth could have a few more seasons at best. Lakshya has already displayed talent and tenacity by beating some of the big names in the game. He is known to analyse his play well, has a nononsense approach to training, and takes his matchdays more seriously than some of his seniors in the bygone era. He has a good coach in Vimal Kumar, an ideal training environment in Bengaluru, and valuable input from a competent support staff.
These days, Lakshya is eyeing a place in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The reigning Commonwealth Games champion is focussed on raising his ranking, which has tumbled from a careerbest No. 6 last November to 23.
Since winning the Commonwealth Games title last August, Lakshya’s consistency has suffered. Severe throat and stomach infections have taken a toll on his immunity. Due to these health reasons, he had to opt for a different diet plan and deal with some niggles. But things have slowly started falling in place.
“The immediate goal is to use the National trials for the Asian Games to be in the right shape for the upcoming Asian circuit involving the Opens in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia,” says Lakshya, continuing, “I am not really focussing on the ranking at this point. If I go deeper into these four events, I am sure my ranking will take care of itself.
“I also plan to play in the US and Canada in July and August before going to Japan and Korea. This will be followed by the World Championship and the Asian Games. These are going to be the real tests,” says a determined Lakshya, keen to make up for the lost time.
Having suffered a few setbacks on the health front, Lakshya is taking extra care.
“When you return from infections and opt for a new nutrition chart, your body takes time to recover. I am focussing on my preparations without ignoring my health and fitness.”
Looking ahead to the season and beyond, Lakshya says, “I’ll try my best to do well in every international tournament. Personally, I have some performance goals. But if I am playing well, the results will take care of themselves. I have to stay away from injuries and health issues.”
The ultimate aim, of course, is the Paris podium, but Lakshya knows that his seniors in the National team will be no pushovers.
“Before the cutoff next year, I should be among the top16 in the world rankings. Since only two players from a country will make it from the top16 bracket, I am sure Srikanth and Prannoy will also go flat out in the qualification race. They are my seniors and have plenty of experience. But I will be focussing on the goals I have set for myself.”
Lakshya’s early exits from tournaments since last August helped Prannoy and Srikanth move ahead in the rankings. After winning the Commonwealth Games gold and reaching the prequarterfinals of the World Championship in August, Lakshya faced a series of disappointing results. He made firstround exits in the Japan Open, French Open, and Hylo Open, with his best performance being the quarterfinals of the Denmark Open.
This year, too, in six events on the BWF calendar, Lakshya could not get past the second round in five events. The only bright spot has been the quarterfinal appearance in the Indonesia Masters.
“When I analyse my results, I look at areas where I need to improve. I believe in the trialanderror method. There have been times when I realised that I lost because I was trying something new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it works, I will build on it. If it doesn’t, I’ll change it. I do draw a lot from the positives of each match.”
His interactions with coach Vimal and sports psychologist/mental trainer Gayatri Vartak play a huge role in keeping him in touch with reality. “Apart from this, in the last six months, I have understood my body better. Now that I have a new nutrition plan, I try harder to take care of my health.”
What about the suggestions from Padukone? “Prakash sir is amazing. He stays aware of what’s happening with my play, besides keeping track of the happenings in world badminton. He keeps reminding me, “Trust the process; results will come.”
For many years, I approached him with any problem that I had, any small thing, and he was always ready to help. I have bonded well with him since I was very young. So that familiarity helps immensely.”
Notwithstanding his age, Lakshya has more experience than his peers. His oncourt demeanour, quick thinking, and sharp anticipation have turned him into a formidable player.
“When I am doing well, I think of playing and beating the likes of Viktor Axelsen or Loh Kean Yew. I look at matches as opportunities to learn. I am sure I will regain my form and peak fitness ahead of the premier events this year.”
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