Thomas and Uber Cup 2018: Having reiterated credentials as future of Indian badminton, Lakshya Sen looks to make a mark in Bangkok
For about a year now, the name Lakshya Sen has become quite popular among the badminton aficionados in the country. And why not? At 16, the youngster has already been able to carve his niche as one of the most promising shuttlers in India.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Almora-born lad has further reiterated his credentials as the future of Indian badminton. His biggest achievement in this period? Stretching the legendary Lin Dan over the full distance at the New Zealand Open Badminton Championships, before eventually capitulating.
"Personally, it was a great experience for me. I got to play with some of the best players in the world and it helped me analyse where I stand at the moment and what are the things I need to work on. Overall, these two tournaments turned out to be good...I mean, I got to play against Lin Dan, you know," Lakshya told Sportskeeda over the phone reflecting on the two weeks he spent in New Zealand and Australia.
The match against Lin Dan was the one where Lakshya really announced that he had arrived. As the match started, his first agenda was to dispell any notion in Lin's mind that it was going to be a cakewalk. He went toe-to-toe with the Chinese legend, staying in the rallies, countering the world famous net play of his adversary.
In fact, in the first game, it looked almost as if Lin was not being able to decide what to make of the young upstart. However, it is not for nothing that he has won five World Championship titles and two Olympic gold medals. The Chinese ace started prolonging the rallies and started playing a patient game, inviting his opponent to go for the kill shot first. It worked well for him and finally, he ended up winning 15-21, 21-15, 21-12.
On being asked what was going through his mind and if he was a tad bit afraid when he was up against Lin, Lakshya said, "I wasn't really afraid that I will be playing against Lin Dan. Mostly, it was excitement. I mean, from the draw, I knew that I'll meet him in the second round if I can win the first match. And I was excited that I might get to take on him. However, the first thing on my mind was to get past the first hurdle, which was also a tough match.
"Obviously, I wanted to win. I wanted to beat Lin Dan. Nevertheless, the fact that I managed to take one game has boosted my confidence," he added.
His coach, Vimal Kumar, though, is not one to be impressed with just one game. Instead, he was quick to point out Lakshya's mistakes. "He has to improve a lot. In the last two matches, there was a lot of pressure situations but to his credit, he is coping quite well. He is just 16 now...if he plays more close matches he can establish himself," Kumar told Sportskeeda.
'Thomas Cup is a great opportunity'
In a first, the Badminton Association of India has decided to give the next generation of shuttlers to hone their skills by selecting some of them in the squads for the upcoming Thomas and Uber Cup 2018 to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from May 20-27. And, of course, when selecting India's future generation, one name you cannot miss out is Lakshya.
"It was a great feeling when I saw that I have been named in the team. Also, Thomas and Uber Cup is a very big tournament, and I hope I'll get a chance to play. If I get to play, I'll definitely give my best. Nevertheless, it will be an invaluable experience for me," the youngster said not being able to conceal his excitement.
Making the jump from the junior level to the senior has not been easy. It is never easy. Take a look at the likes of Siril Verma and Aditya Joshi — both former junior World No. 1 — struggling to find their feet in the senior category. For Lakshya, although he had been moving in the right direction, his progress was hindered by an untimely shoulder injury.
"There is a stark difference between junior and senior circuit. Speed, stamina and strength of all the players are at a much higher level. If I want to succeed at this level, then I'll have to work on my fitness," Lakshya explained.
His coach gave more insights on what the young shuttler needs to do to make it to the top at the senior level. "He (Lakshya) has realised how tough it is to get to the top. Now there will be a lot of expectations from him but he will need to cope with them. All youngsters have to go through that. He will learn in the process. If he gets a chance to play the Thomas Cup, that will be a good opportunity," said Kumar.
"There is a long, long way to go. He is still learning. He needs strength, discipline and endurance. He needs to be cool so that in crucial stages he doesn't get perturbed. He needs to show a little more aggression, he needs to convert those situations. He is still young and still growing and can improve," he added.
Kumar also spoke about why Lakshya should work more on his fitness. "He needs to be careful with injuries because injury setbacks can be difficult to overcome. That's why he needs to work on his fitness as well. But I think he is going on the right track and a correct balance needs to be formed," the 55-year-old said.
"Basically, he has always had close matches at the junior level and beaten players who are better than him. He has always done well so far but he is definitely capable of doing much better at the senior level," he concluded.