With SaarLorLux win, Lakshya Sen completes a hat-trick of gold medals, and breaks into BWF top-50

  • With the fighting 17-21, 21-18, 21-16 victory over China's Weng Hong Yang in a minute under the hour mark, Lakshya Sen completed a hat-trick of gold medals

  • Sen has climbed to 42nd position when the rankings are updated

  • Sen's win over Yang allowed the Indian to even the head-to-head record to 2-2 in what was his first win over the older player in 2019

Lakshya Sen’s heartwarming gold medal winning triumph on Sunday at the SaarLorLux Super 100 badminton championships in Saarbrucken, Germany, was significant for a number of reasons that are bound to have a salutary effect on the 18-year-old shuttler’s fledgling career.

With the fighting 17-21, 21-18, 21-16 victory over China’s Weng Hong Yang in a minute under the hour mark, the Almora-born teenager completed a hat-trick of gold medal wins in three tournaments, held one after another – the Belgian International, the Dutch Open and the SaarLorLux, following a silver at the Polish Open.

 With SaarLorLux win, Lakshya Sen completes a hat-trick of gold medals, and breaks into BWF top-50

Lakshya Sen won the SaarLorLux Super 100 badminton championships in Saarbrucken, Germany. BAI

Two of these competitions - the Dutch Open and the SaarLorLux - were BWF (Badminton World Federation) World Tour Super 100 events, which feature tough 64-player main draws and qualifying rounds (compared to less strenuous 32-player draws, albeit with better quality competition, in the elite Super 300 and above events), while the Belgian International and Polish Open had been Challenger events, with a lower standard of competition.

Sunday’s Saarbrucken victory, secured through a titanic fightback after being 13-16 down in the decider against the 20-year-old, showed Sen at his attacking best. With an unbroken eight-point reel to the tape, it provided testimony of his speed, temperament and stamina as the finish line appeared in sight.

The result allowed the Indian to even the head-to-head record against Weng to 2-2 in what was his first win over the older player in 2019 following defeats at the China Masters in March (9-21, 21-12, 17-21) and the Canada Open in July (7-21, 13-21 margin). Their first meeting, at the Badminton Asia Junior Championships in July 2016, had ended in a three-game triumph for Sen.

On the eve of the final, Vimal Kumar, chief coach at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA), that currently operates within the Dravid Padukone Centre for Excellence in Bangalore, had sent his ward a long message, reviewing the lad’s 21-13, 14-21, 21-9 semi-final win over countryman and PPBA sparring partner, Kiran George: “Hi Lakshya, well done! You played well in patches. Your game was good from 9-9 in the third."

"Tomorrow (in the final against Weng), you need to have patience, but must finish the rallies. When you get the opportunity to attack, you must. He will play fast from the beginning; and hence, you should be alert. The most important aspect is patience; and if you have to retrieve, be prepared, and you must frustrate him. Don’t give him easy points. Work hard tomorrow like you played in the Dutch finals. You can beat him this time. Enjoy the game.”

Vimal added: “Try to control at the net; and, if he is rushing, then push. You will have to do this. Don’t worry about controlling the shuttles; you have a good smash to finish, and you must use that judiciously. After lifting the shuttle, he will stand back to receive your hard smashes, so you must use your slice smashes and wrist smashes to upset his defence."

“Your follow-up to the net should be good; and that way, you can put pressure on him. You were good at the net today (against George). Anyway, don’t think too much now; just enjoy the moment, and be ready for tomorrow. Nothing to worry!”

There was precious little to separate the two antagonists in the decider, and the Chinese player was ahead by a solitary point at the change of ends. Shortly thereafter, Sen appeared to ignore the advice of his coach to take control of the net, or was simply unable to do so. Weng took charge and followed up tight dribbles with powerful smashes that the Indian found difficult to retrieve.

As Sen looked clueless on how to control this relentless barrage of smashes, Weng went 16-13 up and the writing seemed to be on the wall. Suddenly, the Indian changed gears, upped the pace, assumed control of the net, and proceeded to dismantle Weng’s defence and confidence with a barrage of dribble-and-smash winners.

That closing eight-point reel ensured that the name on the first-prize cheque for $5,625 would be that of the eighth-seeded Sen, and not that of the unseeded Weng, who went into the tournament ranked 102nd, but should be well inside the top-100 when the rankings are next announced.

Lakshya Sen had won the Dutch Open in October. BAI

Lakshya Sen had won the Dutch Open in October. BAI

Before the SaarLorLux tournament, Sen had been just outside the top-50, with a total of 28,640 points for his efforts on the 2019 circuit in mainly Challenger-level tournaments. The 5,500 points earned for his Saarbrucken triumph will have propelled the teenager into the top-50 of the BWF world rankings, when they are announced on Monday.

Sen has progressed to 42nd position and compatriots Sourabh Verma (38th) but better than Subhankar Dey (47th). He will thus have comfortably attained his main target for 2019 – cracking the top-50 – set for him by his coaches at the start of the season.

There can be no two opinions that Lakshya Sen is the future of Indian badminton, at least among the men who, after an outstanding 2017 season, have been gradually drifting lower in the rankings with each successive 2019 BWF World Tour event. Whether they can produce a parting kick to the season at the forthcoming Fuzhou China Open (5 to 10 November) remains to be seen.

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Updated Date: Nov 05, 2019 17:30:33 IST