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Badminton

Back in form with an evaluated game, Lakshya Sen focused on winning his first title of the year

With a corrected breathing pattern and a changed training module, Lakshya Sen finally found a way to sustain the changing weather on the BWF World Tour. As he is back in form, he will look for his first title of the year when the Swiss Open begins.

Back in form with an evaluated game, Lakshya Sen focused on winning his first title of the year
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Lakshya Sen in action at a BWF World Tour event. (FILE PHOTO: Badminton Photo/BWF)

By

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 19 March 2024 11:52 AM GMT

Lakshya Sen is back in form after nine first and two second-round exits since his third-place finish at the Japan Open Super 750 in July last year. There were doubts - self and collective - about his promising career since.

That doubts Lakshya washed off with his thunderous smashes, with two weeks on the BWF World Tour's European caravan well spent.

Although a title win is still awaited, two semifinal finishes in back-to-back weeks at two of the most prestigious events on the World Tour - at the venue of the Paris Olympics in the French Open and then at the All England Open - further raised hope of a good result from Lakshya in the coming weeks. He has almost secured a place in the 2024 Paris Olympics just a month before the closure of the Race to Paris rankings.

The good news is that Lakshya is now well past his prolonged recovery from nose surgery. There were sufficient examples of Lakshya's improvised gutsiness and fighting ability, the qualities that have seen him back among the elite after a slump in form that raised several questions about his comeback.

Just a couple of years back, Lakshya was the cynosure of Indian badminton fans, having played a crucial role in India's historic Thomas Cup win. He also won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and clinched the India Open title. He also came close to winning the All England Open, becoming only the first Indian male since Pullela Gopichand to reach the final.

But 2023 would see him slipping through the pecking order of Indian badminton. His only big win came at the Canada Open before making two semifinal exits at the US Open and Japan Open. With the Indian team, he won a historic silver medal at the Asian Games. Promising a lot, he would even beat Shi Yu Qi, the current World No. 2. Yet, he was lacking consistency as more first-round exits followed.

His body struggled to adjust to frequent travelling and weather changes.

Correcting the breathing pattern

For Lakshya, the slump in form happened due to an unavoidable situation - a deviated septum. He needed to change his breathing pattern which required surgery early in 2023. Since childhood, he adjusted to breathing from his mouth as his nose used to get blocked.

"I think surgery was needed because it could have led to a serious issue in the coming years and I wanted to go into the Olympic qualification with a free mind,” Lakshya told BWF in an interaction.

“I had planned it, but I wasn’t ready for the after-effects," he admitted.

“The after-effects were not because of medication, but because my nose became very sensitive. With (reduced) immunity, any change of water or weather, I was falling sick or having a stomach upset," he explained.

The surgery would force him to change his training module, and that affected his playing too.

“Whenever I was in training, I was getting injured or sick. Then I had to take a step back for a bit because, for the first two months, I did not have any idea that it could be this serious. I made a lot of changes in my food, and also in the training load," said Lakshya.

But then came a turnaround, as Lakshya beat opponents like Loh Kean Yew, the former world champion, and world no. 4 Li Shi Feng, the winner of the All England Open in 2023, at the French Open. And then, in the next week, he would haunt down world no. 3 Anders Antonsen, one of the most improved players on the World Tour at the moment, and world no. 10 Li Zii Jia at the All England Open, displaying his newly found form.

That fist-pumping, point-winning yells are back in his traits. And, remarkably, the lithe player showed athleticism to last those gruelling battles, lasting over an hour and three games.

The only time Lakshya's match ended in straight games was against Magnus Johannesen, in 40 minutes. It showed that physically he was at the peak. But the losses against Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Jonatan Christie, the champion of the All England Open, in the semifinals showed Lakshya still has unfinished business before he truly gets his 2022 form back.

Against the calm and dogged rivals, Lakshya looked perplexed when he found his round-the-head crosscourt smashes not earning him the winners. Against Vitidsarn, Lakshya was losing his cool when he failed to get the winners, as a result; he played one of his backhand smashes into the net. Against Christie, a hard-faced player, Lakshya's impatience to stay in the game and engage in rallies cost him dearly after taking the second game 21-10.

With the once-impossible Paris Olympics dream now looking feasible, Lakshya needs to address this anomaly. The tournaments will get only tougher as was evident in France and England. Lakshya needs to improve his starting and finishing skills against tougher opponents. In the last two weeks, he lost the opening game in five of his eight matches.

He must not run out of steam as it happened against Christie, who won a 63-shot rally in the third game with a deceptive drop shot that would leave Lakshya staring at the shuttle exhausted.

Though Lakshya hit the 320 kph smashes regularly, he found himself lost when he saw Christie retrieving them, relentlessly.

The challenge of playing long

Lakshya admitted that the fatigue took the best out of him.

"All the matches that I have played were long and I could feel it in the recovery, in the next day’s match preparation,” Lakshya said after his semifinal exit in Birmingham.

“Some matches, I started slow in the first game, even having a good lead and then not being able to convert those first-setters that then went on to three games. I won some of those but I know this is one thing that I want to improve: close matches in two games. So that I’m a bit fresher," he added.

The good thing is that Lakshya took these defeats positively and decided to go back to the drawing room to discuss and rectify his areas of concern.

“I will sit back, discuss with my coaches, and try to analyse the two weeks much better because as of now I was just focusing on the next match after every game. Now it is time to reflect and watch those matches again. Take good things and keep learning from the mistakes that happen,” Lakshya remarked.

Lakshya is disappointed for not being able to grab a title so far, but there is novel confidence in his words. With his next destination being the Swiss Open Super 300, Lakshya wants to put the disappointment of semifinal defeats behind him by lifting his first title of the year in Basel.

"As of now, I am pretty disappointed with the result. But overall, the way I played the last two weeks, surely I have the level to be up there and win in the big tournaments. Now, it is time to maintain this momentum and strive for more victories,” Lakshya gushed.

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