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Indian badminton player Lakshya Sen has been a new toast of the nation. With a Youth Olympics silver, Junior World Championship bronze and a triumph in the Tata Open International, Lakshya has cemented his place as one of the most talented youngsters in the block. One who could follow the footstep of the masters like Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand.
Reared at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), Lakshya has tremendous support by his side, especially from Chirag Sen and D. K. Sen, Lakshya’s elder brother and father. Though he is yet to achieve great things on the senior international circuit, he is treated as no less than a star by legend Padukone and chief coach Vimal Kumar, who has contributed immensely in shaping his career. It was in 2010, D. K. Sen, who is a renowned badminton coach at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Almora (Uttarakhand), brought with him a few young shuttlers to PPBA, including Chirag and Lakshya for a national-level age-group tournament. Chirag's performance drew Vimal's attention, and he was enrolled at PPBA. Lakshya, who was 10, initially did not figure in their plans. He, however, was desperate to join the PPBA with Chirag. Both Vimal and D. K. Sen believed that Lakshya was much too young to live away from family. Lakshya carried on with his demands until the elders gave in and it was agreed that Chirag and Lakshya would move to Bengaluru together to live and train at PPBA. The gamble soon paid off as a few months later at PPBA, Lakshya won an under-11 international title in Singapore.
With impressive form by his side, Lakshya has broken into the top 100 to be placed 76th in the latest Badminton World Federation rankings, a massive jump of 28 places.
In the next six years, Lakshya went on to win the U-13, U-17 and U-19 National tournaments among other international competitions in the same age group. He was just aged 15 when he clinched the U-19 National Medal. Besides, performing well in the Juniors is a daunting task, considering age-cheating is so rampant in the country. Young Lakshya Sen. (Image : OGQ) His game evolved as he spent more time at the academy and acquired new skills. Playing at PPBA, gave Lakshya some of his mentor’s traits. He has proven to be strong at the nets from where he controls the proceedings quite well, just like Padukone in his playing days. Growing up in the hilly terrains of Almora, Lakshya has been gifted with sturdy legs and bellow-like lungs, which have helped him in his speed and stamina. It allows him to slog for extended hours without showing fatigue. Besides, standing at 5’10’’, he still has room to reach the 6 feet mark, which is an exceptional height for badminton players. For Lakshya, 2016 was a watershed year when first won the bronze medal at the Asian Junior Championships, where he defeated the juniors World No. 1 in Thailand. He also picked up a medal in the all-India Seniors in Itanagar. His maiden title came in the 2017 Bulgaria Open International Series. It was followed by the prestigious India International Series, both of which are BWF International Series. Lakshya also stood as the runner-up at the Tata Open International. Lakshya Sen with the 2018 Tata Open title. However, 2018 proved to be a landmark year for Lakshya. He claimed the ultimate honour by clinching the Asian Junior Championship title. Lakshya defeated World No. 1, Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn in the final. This feat made him the third Indian after Gautam Thakkar in 1965 and PV Sindhu in 2012 to reach the heights. At the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics, the youngster went on until the finals of the men’s singles. However, he was defeated in the finale by China’s Li Chifeng. Nevertheless, by clinching the silver, he became the first Indian shuttler to win a medal in the Youth Olympics. https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/1050300976081588224 Another big moment of reckoning came in December last year, when Lakshya took down Vitidsarn once more, in straight sets, to claim the title at the Tata Open India International Challenge 2018. Making a transition into the senior circuit in 2019, Lakshya believes he needs to work on his speed and stamina as he eyes to break into the top 30 BWF ranking by the end of this year. Lakshya has already been the runner-up at the Senior Badminton Nationals this year in Guwahati where he lost to Sourabh Verma. Furthermore, in March, Lakshya continued his sensational performance to reach the semi-Final of the China Open where he fought for one hour and two minutes before losing 9-21, 21-12, 17-21 against China's Weng Hongyang. At the Polish Open last week, the Indian teenage badminton sensation finished the tournament as a runner-up after a great final against Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand. The youngster who has shown promises to be the next best from India believes 2019 is going to be crucial as he will be aiming a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, the consensus is that the level of competition and maturity required to succeed in the senior circuit is very distinct from the junior level.
Vimal and Padukone decided to induct Lakshya into a special programme, where talented youngsters were taken on regular foreign trips to strong badminton nations like Indonesia, Malaysia and Denmark.
Time and again it has been seen junior players breaking into the senior circuit over-eager to prove their mettle and pushing themselves by playing more tournaments to gain ranking points. However, it results in stress, injuries, and the vicious circle of recovering from injuries while trying to still maintain the ranking. Lakshya might not make the headlines now as he starts off his senior-level game due to the lack of titles and some may even question his ability to succeed at that level. However, it is an unavoidable stretch in any player’s career, and given Lakshya’s potential, it is essential he crosses it on his own terms and moves cautiously in picking up his challenges.
Lakshya might still need a few years to find his footing on the senior circuit. He also has to consistently play well against the best in the business before challenging for bigger titles.