Lakshya Sen Is Indian Badminton’s Leading Light
On court he is as speedy as he is skillful
There is little doubt that badminton is one sport in which India has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand provided the inspiration, particularly by winning the all England titles in 1980 and 2001, but it took some more time for things to crystallise.
It was in the second decade of the new millennium that Indians really started making waves around the international circuit. First it was the duo of Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu to take Indian badminton to another level. Saina in fact rose to the No. 1 spot in the BWF rankings in 2015 while Sindhu, a two-time Olympic medallist was ranked as high as No. 2 in 2017.
But even as Indian badminton basked in the sunshine thanks to Saina and Sindhu the men caught up with the likes of Kidambi Srikanth, H. S. Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and Lakshya Sen winning major international titles and rising to within the top ten of the BWF rankings. Srikanth in fact reached the No 1 ranking in 2018.
The triumph of the men’s team in the Thomas Cup for the first time last year marked the culmination of the glorious phase of Indian badminton. As the icing on the cake S. Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty emerged as a world beating pair in doubles. They created history this year by becoming the first Indian pair to win the BWF World Tour 1000 title that saw the duo rise to the No 2 spot in the rankings.
Of late, however, there has been a dip in the performance of the Indians around the international circuit. Among the ladies Saina now 33 is in semi-retirement and as a result her ranking has fallen to 30.
Sindhu, bothered by injuries, has been going through a lean patch making it to the semifinals and even the final of tournaments round the circuit but unable to win any titles she has slid sharply to 15 in the rankings.
The men have not fared any better. Sai Praneeth who reached a career high ranking of 10 in 2019 has fallen to 50. Srikanth who in 2021 became the first Indian to reach the final of the World Championship also has had an indifferent record of late and as a result his ranking has dropped to 19.
Prannoy faring more consistently has kept his place in the top 10. But the Indian player very much in the news of late is Lakshya. Currently ranked No 11 he bids fair to climb up the ladder in the near future.
Yes, there is little doubt that right now Lakshya is Indian badminton’s leading light. At 22 the Arjuna award winner has got youth on his side and he is a fitness freak. Moreover he has got a hunger for success which few Indians can match.
He is ambitious and is razor keen to achieve his goals. On court he is as speedy as he is skillful and bids fair to be Indian badminton’s standard bearer at least for the rest of the decade.
At the moment even as a maiden medal at the Asian Games and breaking into the top five in the world remain on his radar Lakshya’s first priority is to extend his rich vein of form at the World Championship and he is counting on his impressive showing of late to come up trumps.
Last year Lakshya gave enough indications that he was Indian badminton’s great future hope thanks to several significant victories.
First he defeated reigning world champion Loh Kean Yew in the India Open final thus clinching his first Super 500 title.
In the German Open he got the better of world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen in the semifinal. He then beat world No. 3 Anders Antonsen and world No. 7 Lee Zii Jia to reach the final of the all England Open before going down to Axelsen in the title clash.
This year after briefly undergoing a rough patch Lakshya turned around his fortunes with a title winning run in Canada in July and followed it up with two semi final finishes at the US Open and the Japan Open.
Lakshya who won a maiden bronze at the World championship in 2021 when he went down to Srikanth in the semifinal will be aiming to secure another medal when he begins his campaign in Copenhagen on August 21. According to him the preparation has been good, the form has been impressive but there are still a few more areas in which he has to improve.
That quest for perfection is one factor behind Lakshya’s rise in world badminton. “I feel these past tournaments in which I have played really well will help me when heading to Copenhagen,’’ he said in a recent interview, adding, “The priority is to win big tournaments and the ranking will then take care of itself.’’
A year ago following the World Championship Lakshya underwent nasal surgery to treat a deviated septum. What followed was an extended recovery process that took eight months.
His physical condition affected his performance and he made first round exits in the last four events of 2022 and found the going tough in the early part of this year. It has been a slow start in 2023 but in the last few months he has more than made up with some brilliant performances and he is of the view that the strenuous training he underwent in the early part of the year helped a lot.
Lakshya is clearly the torchbearer when it comes to India’s campaign at Copenhagen, the Asian Games, and beyond.