How Morten Frost's advice, playing with Viktor Axelsen and tactical maturity helped Lakshya Sen soar
In just under a month, Lakshya Sen has won a world championship medal and his first Super 500 title and at 20 he is just starting on the international circuit
Lakshya Sen was playing Yusuke Onodera of Japan in the Dutch Open Super 100 final in October 2019. The Indian had lost the opening game after trying to hit his way through the defence of his opponent but every shuttle kept coming back and he ended up making the errors.
During the break before the start of the next game, Danish great Morten Frost gave Lakshya an earful and told him that if he wanted to win the title, he would have to be ready to puke on that court if needed.
The message was clear. If Lakshya was looking to build on his junior success, he had to be prepared to grind instead of just going for the kill to end rallies. The 2018 Asian junior champion changed his approach, began playing the waiting game and went on to turn the tables on his Japanese opponent in an hour and three minutes.
Over the last two years, Lakshya has spent a lot of time talking to Frost, during his visits to Bengaluru and when the Danish former world No. 1 travelled for tournaments, on how to be pace himself during matches, plan the points and optimise performance.
“It’s not possible to play with the same tempo throughout the match. Morten sir has helped me understand when to relax between the match, when to change the pace of the game to catch my breath and then again up the tempo. That is helping me now,” said Lakshya after winning his first Super 500 title at the India Open in New Delhi on Sunday.
The 20-year-old has been on a roll in the last few months, winning a World Championship bronze medal in his very first appearance in the prestigious tournament and capped it with the India Open title triumph on home turf.
There was never any doubt about Lakshya’s potential as a future star of Indian badminton since he was roped in by the Prakash Padukone Academy at the age of 11. In 2018, he bagged the Asian junior gold, world junior bronze and a silver in the Youth Olympics.
But even he knew that the senior circuit was going to be a different beast and he needed something special to get into the big league.
In the second half of 2019, Lakshya spent a couple of months training in Denmark along with other academy players and even played a few local league games there, which allowed him to get a feel of playing against top senior players.
During that period, he also played a few tournaments in Europe, including the above mentioned Dutch Open, and won five titles in a row. They were lower level tournaments with only the Dutch and Saarlorlux Open being Super 100 events.
But that gave Lakshya the taste of success and he was willing to work on that one aspect of the game everyone had been telling him – patience.
He then played a crucial role in helping India bag a bronze medal in the Badminton Asia Team Championships in Manila, Philippines at the start of 2020 and even upset reigning Asian Games gold medallist Jonatan Christie in the semi-finals.
It looked like Lakshya could even challenge for a Tokyo Olympics berth at that stage but as luck would have it, COVID-19 struck soon after and he needed to start the rebuilding process again.
Lakshya and his team made the most of the fact that Bengaluru lifted the lockdown restrictions at the earliest and he got extended time to work on his overall fitness and strengthening.
But just when he was hoping to get his 2020 season going after the restart of tournaments, he had to withdraw from Saarlorlux Open after his father DK Sen tested positive. He himself tested positive after returning home and suffered a back injury once he returned to training and had to start from scratch again.
The re-start was anything but positive. Lakshya had an upset stomach when he went to the selection trials for the Sudirman Cup and Thomas/Uber Cup in Hyderabad and was knocked out in the group stage itself.
That loss, however, propelled him to go and train with Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Viktor Axelsen where even Loh Kean Yew, Canada’s Brian Yang and a few others were training.
The stint in Dubai meant that Lakshya had a bunch of sparring partners who trained at a far higher intensity than he was used to in Bengaluru and that simply raised the level of his game.
“There are many factors that has led to this consistency. I trained a lot during the COVID break, focused on being patient on court and had got two weeks training with Viktor,” said Lakshya, who is keen on going back to Dubai to train whenever he gets a long enough break.
And all those things came together this week in New Delhi. Lakshya was outpaced by HS Prannoy in the opening game of their quarter-final encounter but the youngster did not lose his composure and forced his compatriot to play to his strengths by pushing the dribbles slightly away from the net.
It was a similar situation against Tze Yong Ng in the semi-finals. The Malaysian was reading Lakshya’s fast-paced drives quite well in the opening game and dominated the net. Having dropped that game, Lakshya began playing a lot of softer stokes to the forecourt and then followed up with his crosscourt smashes.
In the final, Loh tested Lakshya’s composure with a strong fightback in the opening game. But the 20-year-old did not divert from his game plan and was patient even when things weren’t working for him.
The maturity and drive he displayed in fighting back in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and the calmness under pressure against Loh in the final shows that Lakshya has finally cracked the code required to win on the big stage.
With the match tied at 2-2, HS Prannoy defeated Rasmus Gemke in the decider to give the Indian team a historic victory over the 2016 champions.
World Championships bronze medallist Lakshya Sen started the proceeding with an easy 21-16 21-13 win over world no 64 Max Weisskirchen
The women had two semi-final finishes in successive editions of the Uber Cup to clinch two bronze medals in 2014 and 2016. However, no Indian men's team has ever won a medal in the Thomas Cup, having failed to reach the semi-final even once.