For that brief moment, Lakshya Sen wept. Down on all fours, head buried in his arms, shoulders shuddering as he let the emotions go. But as he got back to his feet, below the dyed blonde streaks in his hair was the beaming smile. The smile of the champion of the Canada Open Super 500 badminton event in Calgary.

In a men’s singles final that lasted 50 minutes, the 21-year-old from Almora came up with a 21-18, 22-20 win over the reigning All England champion Li Shi Feng of China.

And with it came the end of a long wait for a title. The last tour event Sen won was the India Open Super 500 in January 2022. The last tour final he was involved in was the All England Super 1000 last year. This season though, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist has not been able to replicate that same form.

Bouts of illness following a nasal surgery for a deviated septum saw him unable to live up to his potential. In the 10 tour tournaments he played before making the trip to Canada, he won at least two matches in an event, twice – reaching the quarter-final at the Indonesia Super 500 and the semi-final in Thailand last month.

Also read: Interview – Lakshya Sen, rested and rejuvenated, aims to bounce back after tough start to 2023 season

But with the win in Calgary, his fourth tour title, there is hope that his form is back.

“At the start of the season, I didn’t do quite well, but this win will give me a lot of confidence,” he said in the mixed zone after the final.

“This was an amazing tournament for me. I kept getting better after the first round. As the tournament went ahead, I opened up a little bit more, I got used to the conditions really well.”

His first-round opponent was a familiar rival, Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn – the second seed. But Sen, once ranked as high as sixth and currently the world No 19, came up with a 21-18, 21-15 win over a player he’s been competing against since their junior days.

In the semi-final, he won in straight games again, beating the talented Kenta Nishimoto 21-17, 21-14. But the manner in which he won the final speaks volumes of how strong his comeback has been.

He had won the opening game, but Li looked set to force the match into a decider, reaching 20-16. That’s when Sen decided to prove his mettle. Slowly, he clawed back into the game, winning the next six points in a row with a mixture of measured wristwork in the net dribbles and a powerful overhead smash. And belief.

“Towards the second game it was difficult for me to predict anything because I was trailing all the way,” he said.

“The one thing that was there was that I never believed that I’m losing this game. I wanted to go all out in the second game as well. In the end, I got the win. The key thing was to just remain patient in the crucial moments and play the right tactical game.”

At 20-20, Sen turned defence into attack with a delightfully nonchalant backhand crosscourt tap. Li had just unloaded everything he had into a smash towards Sen’s left, but the Indian simply flicked the shuttle back into the forecourt, leaving the Chinese to scamper to continue the rally. It was a 20-shot rally, but in that one simple shot, Sen had turned the tables, dominated the exchange and finished with a smash to set up match point.

Another short exchange and a smash later, Sen was champion.

“When I stepped onto the court to play him, I was prepared to go all out,” Sen added. “I love these kind of situations – you’re under pressure, the crowd is cheering, it’s the final game. It’s a good feeling to play like this.

“It was a really solid game. He’s a top opponent, I expect a very good match whenever I play him. But the way I played today, I think I dominated the net pretty well. He was also counter attacking a lot, but in the crucial stages I’m happy I won the crucial points.”

Asked what his plans are to celebrate, and Sen asserted that there wouldn’t be much time. As the tour now shifts to the United States, he will hope to continue to build on the momentum that has won him his first title in over a year.