A few months ago during a discussion on the challenges a badminton player faces while transitioning from being a promising junior into a top shuttler in the senior circuit, former chief national coach U Vimal Kumar had spoken about the need for proper exposure and definite weapons to overpower opponents.
But more importantly, he had emphasised on the need for patience and maturity while giving the example of Lakshya Sen. The former Junior Asian Champion has been touted as Indian badminton’s next big hope and had been making steady progress in his first full year in the senior circuit.
“Lakshya has the weapons, the big smash, to score points and has registered some good wins in the past few years. But to be a top badminton player, he needs to develop patience and maturity to play long rallies and wait for his chances against rally players,” Vimal Kumar had said.
The 56-year-old was hinting at Sen’s losses against players like Sourabh Verma who manage to frustrate him with patient build-up in rallies. The youngster had been at the receiving end of his more senior compatriot’s guile in two senior national finals after he had beaten some of the top names in Indian badminton.
“Lakshya has the stamina and strength to outlast players like him but lacks the patience to play such matches. He definitely has the potential to be a top-10 shuttler but a lot will depend on how he develops this side of his game,” he added.
Vimal would have been delighted to see that Sen has been a quick learner and their decision to send him and a few other Prakash Padukone Academy players to Denmark for a two and half month training-cum-competition stint has shown that the 18-year-old is moving along the right track.
Sen has won three successive titles in Europe – Belgian International, Dutch Open and SaarLorLux Open – in the last two months with the last two being BWF Super 100 crowns. He may not have had to face some of the big names in world badminton during his title-winning runs in these three tournaments but the Olympic Gold Quest-supported shuttler did showcase improved patience and maturity.
Sen himself picked his second-round win in last week’s SaarLorLux Open against Finland’s Eetu Heino as a match that stood out for him in these three tournaments for the same reason.
“I wasn’t playing well that day... nothing was working for me, which meant that all I could do was to play simple, short and keep the shuttle in play and wait for the opponent to make a mistake or give me a good opportunity to finish.
“It turned out to be a close affair but I am happy that I could pull out the match,” said Sen about his 21-18, 18-21, 22-20 win over Heino.
The 18-year-old, who has now jumped to 42 in the world rankings, had no coach to help him out through the match as Danish legend Morten Frost, who has been supervising the group’s training in Denmark, wanted them to travel without any support staff for the tournament and figure things out for themselves. Though Indian players are used to going for tournaments on their own for smaller tournaments, SaarLorLux is considered a prestigious meet in Europe with even the likes of five-time world champion Lin Dan participating last year.
This meant that Sen had two of his fellow academy-mates to guide him during the second round and then later in the final against China’s Weng Hong Yang when he staged a comeback from 13-16 in the decider to clinch the title by winning eight straight points.
“I played two-three good points to make it 16-16. It was important to stay focused after that and there were a couple of long rallies but I managed to stay patient and he made mistakes,” said Sen, who had lost to the Chinese opponent twice before the summit clash.
Sen insisted that the experience of training with players at the Danish national centre in Aarhus and playing club matches before these tournaments has helped him understand how to patiently build a point and sustain himself in long matches.
“I played a match against Jan O Jorgesen, which I won, before the Belgium Open. Then I got to play two matches against Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and Rasmus Gemke before the SaarlorLux Open. And that helped me a lot. I still have to work a lot more on my patience but I am happy with the progress I have made,” he added.
Sen, who will be playing the Irish and Scottish Open before returning to India for the Syed Modi International in the last week of November, knows that his real challenge will come when he has to maintain the levels through the week in major competitions.
“Now that my ranking has improved, I think I can get an entry into bigger tournaments now. I am looking forward to playing the bigger events and giving my best there,” he said.