The Sen who dared: How Lakshya Sen is ticking off his wishlist
Medalling 5 times in 4 months, 20-year-old Lakshya Sen has emerged as the new marvel of Indian badminton and he is impatiently ticking off his neat wishlist.
It was in January 2022 when an unassuming Lakshya Sen, eyes twinkling with hope, had mentioned how much he'd love the opportunity to go train with Viktor Axelsen at Dubai - again, just like he did in September of last year.
Starry-eyed, a little mischievous and shy, Lakshya Sen, then World No. 17 had quietly said that he would like to break into the top 10 by the end of the year, making it his New Year's resolve, on his little-big wishlist that features getting medals from the Olympics, World Championships and All England Open.
Flash forward just a couple of months now and not only has the 20-year-old Lakshya Sen met his inviter, Viktor Axelsen on the court twice in a quick span of two weeks, but he has also stopped the World No. 1 and reigning Olympic champion from entering the finals of the German Open 2022 in great style.
And oh, his New Year wish of breaking into the top 10? That's also taken care of by him at his own wish-granting factory and he is set to become the new World No. 9, displacing World Champion Loh Kean Yew from that spot. The wishlist is also pretty content with just the token Olympic medal missing currently, Lakshya Sen is well on track.
"I remember being a little kid when I started to dream big - medals from the Olympics, World Championships, All England - there was so much to be done. At 20, with my first medal from the World Championships already collected - the future only excites me," Sen had told The Bridge in December, with just firm faith in the future ahead.
Skill and stealth maketh Lakshya Sen one to watch out for
Ripping blitzing smashes, deft at the net, toying with the birdie or producing stunning cross-court winners to being deceptive and mixing up his pace and being way too quick on his feet - Lakshya Sen's ammunition is one to treasure. But that is not to say that the weaponry is complete yet.
However, it was enough to unleash these in practically every BWF tournament he has played in 2022 - reaching the finals in all of them, winning the India Open Super 500 and finishing with coveted silver medals from the German Open and the All England Open.
Lakshya Sen had dreamed, Lakshya Sen had dared - unflinching across the net, staving off the likes of Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ginting, World Championships bronze medallist Anders Antonsen, All England defending champion Lee Zii Jia and of course, Axelsen too.
Coach Vimal Kumar, reflecting on the Lakshya Sen and Viktor Axelsen clash at the All England Open finals was quick to analyse," I am happy with his tactical acumen, there is a considerable improvement. He is calm and deals with tough situations better. I also see a remarkable improvement in his defence, especially after how he has tackled the attack of Viktor (Axelsen) and Anders (Antonsen)," Kumar told in an interview with the PTI.
"Overall, he is going in the right direction but he can attack more from the back of the court and bring in more variations," Kumar assessed.
Up against Viktor Axelsen for the second time in two weeks, the great Dane managed to exact his revenge at the finals of the BWF Super 1000 tournament in Birmingham, being almost fool-proof against Lakshya, not allowing him any space to power past with his netplay.
A physically gruelling match later that saw 70-shot rallies and both players huffing and puffing, it was Axelsen who had the last word and won the All England crown a second time, in his fourth straight final while Sen, just 20, stood next to him, silver medal around his neck, quietly proud of becoming the youngest All England Open finalist in Men's Singles from India.
Even Axelsen, who has immense respect for the younger Sen, was full of praise for the budding star and said, "Amazing player, young guy... Obviously, I know him really well, I know his team around him, all good guys. Wish them well, hopefully, we'll have many more good encounters," Axelsen mentioned after the win, having exchanged jerseys with Lakshya earlier out of true sportsmanship spirit.
A new hero to serenade
With headlines growing too weary bearing the names of the Sindhu's and Srikanth's, Indian badminton was desperately looking for its next torchbearer, a new face to fan about, a new hero to serenade and Lakshya Sen with his exploits in the last four months - a World Championships bronze, an India Open crown, a silver from German Open and the all-important runner-up finish at the All England Open has arrived and how.
Nurtured at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), Lakshya Sen was identified as a prodigy at a very young age by Padukone himself and ever since it has been nothing but dreaming big for the boy from the hills of Almora, Kumaon, tucked way up in North India.
"Prakash Padukone Sir saw me then - I hardly stood a little above his waist then but my enthusiasm and ambitions were readily on display - I had the hunger, I wanted the win and someday, like Prakash Sir, also make India proud because of my badminton. After Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat, it was Prakash Padukone who had been my inspiration to take up badminton - I was ready to do anything to walk in the steps of such greatness," a humble Sen with throbbing dreams had told The Bridge after his bronze medal win at the World Championships in Huelva, Spain last December.
If we are to go by his growth surge in the last four months, one fact reigns supreme - Sen doesn't like to waste time, if he wants something, he goes and gets it, the faster the possible, guided as he is by his just-out-of-teenage haste.
But the haste has only brought good tidings for Sen, a self-confessed Spiderman fan, who has turned into something of a superhero figure only for Indian badminton with his fairytale dash, stretching from Almora to Birmingham and now, beyond.
"I think now I know what it's like to be playing in the big stages... the tournaments keep coming and you have to be prepared physically and mentally for every match which is going to be tough. This gives me a lot of confidence," Lakshya said, enthralled to be 'living' his dream, after the silver win at the All England.
For now, with the wishlist almost ticked off, at least in parts, Lakshya Sen's heroics and his brand of badminton is a thing of marvel that is only going to keep this sensational run fuelled.
Welcome to the Lakshya Sen show, you are invited to be a part of this spectacle.