A column of reporters swarmed around Lakshya Sen, like bees to honey, on a cold January afternoon in New Delhi. The same question kept cropping up asking about the shuttler’s torrid run of form.

This was on the sidelines of the 2024 India Open Super 750, minutes after Sen had lost to compatriot and good friend Priyanshu Rajawat in the men’s singles opening round at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. A week earlier, he had started his 2024 season with a first-round loss at the Malaysia Open Super 1000 in Kuala Lumpur.

Sen was in dire straits. The India Open marked his eighth straight first-round exit in a World Tour event. He had fallen to No 19 in the BWF Race to Paris Olympics ranking – only the top 16 would qualify for the Games.

Struggling to gather his thoughts, Sen muttered, “I think I can’t answer that right now [on the future], I am still in the game. I don’t know what to say.”

That dejected and beaten image of Sen was from not too long ago. But in the four months that have followed, the 22-year-old from Almora, Uttarakhand, turned things around with consistent performances in the European circuit.

The 2024 Paris Olympics qualification window closed in April, and Sen managed to pull his ranking up to the 13th spot to confirm a Games debut.

“If we had planned better, I would not have left the qualification for that late,” said Sen with a chuckle to Scroll. “But certain things were not in my control at that time. It was just a matter of five-six tournaments to decide whether I am in or out.”

Sen asserted that his resurgence started with the 2024 Badminton Asia Team Championships in February. Though the Indian men’s team had a forgettable outing, crashing out in the quarter-finals, Sen enjoyed an unbeaten run. He won all of his three matches in the continental competition without dropping a game, handing him a much needed boost in confidence.

The seeds for this resurgence though were sown in November, when he decided to reunite with his childhood coach Vimal Kumar.

“Vimal sir was also there when I was working with Anup [Sridhar], he was not there on a regular basis but he knew what was going on and how we were training,” revealed Sen.

Focus on strength and conditioning

Once he joined hands with Kumar full-time, the next few weeks were spent in tweaking his training sessions. There was a renewed focus on strength and conditioning to improve his fitness, whilst also focusing on getting match time – something he struggled with due to the constant first-round losses.

Deckline Leitao, a sports conditioning expert, was roped in to help Sen with his fitness.

The shuttler spent his time with Leitao doing biceps curls for arm strength, underwent the famous yo-yo tests, practiced double rope climbs to increase his shoulder strength and ran on treadmills for cardiovascular endurance.

“There were a few changes in [the strength and conditioning program] and it took me some time to get adjusted,” said Sen.

However once he grew comfortable, the results were evident. Sen was more flexible on court, his jump smashes touched speeds of 320 kmph and his stamina has increased drastically.

He won three deciders at the French Open Super 750 and two at the All England Open Super 750 – the two tournaments which went a long way in nudging him towards the Olympic qualification. The semi-finals he lost in both the tournaments were also intense three-game battles.

Kumar, meanwhile, took the onus on himself to help Sen on the court. Changes were made to his training regimen – playing games after sessions became mandatory to make up for the lack of match time. From games being played only twice a week, it started becoming a regular feature.

Some challenges were thrown at Sen during these games, while he took some up on his own.

“Let’s say I want to work on a forehand cross drop,” said Sen, explaining the new training sessions. “Then I would personally have a restriction that I cannot play a straight drop whenever I get and have to play to the other side more.

“We would also simulate certain score lines where I am 16-14 down or 17-14 up. I did these [simulations] a lot, especially before leaving for a tournament.”

The match simulations, in particular, have come in handy for him, believes Sen. It has helped him find the solutions to his problem on court, unlike analysing his matches to figure out what he could have done better.

Rush for an Olympic spot

Sen termed the China Open Super 1000 in September last year – which started his eight World Tour first round losses streak – as the tipping point when he realised something was not right. But with the Olympic qualification process already in full swing by then, he could not afford to pull out of tournaments and continued playing in desperation.

“When I came back from the China Open, I had a back niggle and that’s when I assessed that my fitness level is not really up there,” said Sen.

“I did not have time to recover and work on building my strength because I was playing too many tournaments. I was just trying to maintain my fitness levels and could not push beyond a point.”

Ending his season with the China Masters Super 750 in November turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Sen. He used the longer off-season period to rebuild himself, piece by piece.

“It was a slow process,” said Sen, on getting back to his best. “It took me two to three months to get back up there and start performing. I still played in January and was trying to get better.

“Then the [Badminton Asia Team Championships] gave me good match practice where I played all matches and won all of them, which was much needed before the European circuit.”

With the 2024 Paris Olympics just over two months away, Sen has started to peak at the right time. He has learnt the importance of workload management and has decided to skip the Thailand Open Super 500, the ongoing Malaysia Masters Super 500, and will instead focus on the Singapore Open Super 750, the Indonesia Open Super 1000 next month.

The fact that he had a good outing at the 2024 French Open – on courts which will be used for the Paris Games – and in the slow European conditions which he tends to enjoy, also holds him a good stead.

“I am not thinking too much about the results,” asserted Sen on his expectations at the Olympics. “As of now I am really focused training right and doing right things before the tournament”

He is set to travel to Marseille, France for a 12-day training session to help him get used to the conditions in the host country just before the Olympics. And with his form constantly improving, Sen looks well placed to throw his hat in the ring for a podium place come when he goes to Paris.