Everyone keeps saying Lakshya Sen is the future. But if one takes his performance against Kidmabi Srikanth in the semi-finals of the BWF World Championships as evidence then, he has proved that he is the present too.
In a 69-minute match, Sen put on a show that should have convinced many watchers that he is just a few steps away from permanently stepping into the big league. The lopsided top half of the draw due to the withdrawals of some top seeds means that the tournament will have an asterisk but that shouldn’t matter to the young Indian, who seems to have really come to terms with the senior circuit in the last few months.
Srikanth, the more experienced of the two players by far, was a bundle of nerves early on. But the 20-year-old Lakshya just seemed to soak it all and then put his best foot forward. The performance gave us a measure of the good mind space he is in. He clearly has the understanding that at the moment, he has the opportunity to learn and improve each time he steps onto the court.
Still just 20 and at his first Worlds, he pushed the former world no 1 as hard as he possibly could. And while he still doesn’t have the raw power of some of the other players on tour, his speed and defence are clearly second to none.
If one were to say that Sen has a super strength, then, at the moment, it is his incredible defence. The defence allied with his natural propensity to fight for each point makes him a player you underestimate only at your own peril.
So often in the semi-final, it would seem like Srikanth was in complete control but Lakshya would somehow get the shuttle back and then make the senior pro start over.
There are other obvious improvements too. His movement seems more assured now but that is a direct consequence of him reading the play better. It allows him to make use of his speed around the court.
In the past, he was using this speed to scramble around the court and just get the shuttle back. But now, he can use the speed as a weapon. This is a natural progression too. As he starts to play the bigger players more often, he will start getting used to their style and that will see his flow get even better; it will allow him to take the shuttle early and put his opponent under ever more pressure.
He is more patient now and isn’t looking to finish off rallies as he did in the juniors anymore. But there is still a way to go in this regard. In the longer rallies, it was often Srikanth who seemed to be more in control.
The big question, of course, is whether all of this will work against the big players? Will it work against Viktor Axelsen? Will it work against Kento Momota? Will it work against players who move just as quickly? Does he have the weapons to hurt them?
But these are all questions that Lakshya doesn’t need to answer right away. He is only 20 and he has time on his side and a World Championships bronze to act as inspiration.
For now, this is as good as it gets. He can look back to getting home and putting his feet up for a while... safe in the knowledge, that he has well and truly earned the break.