SINGAPORE CITY: He grew up around badminton racquets. With his father as his first coach and watching his elder brother’s jump-smashes, Lakshya Sen literally inherited an obsession for the sport.
2021 couldn’t have ended on a better note for Sen, or, dare we say, the road to the 2024 Paris Olympics couldn’t have begun in a better way for the 20-year-old boy from Almora.
A bronze medal at the BWF World Championships last December gave Sen the confidence to go all the way at the recently concluded India Open. To add a touch of style to that title on home soil, Sen defeated the newly-crowned world champion from Singapore, Loh Kean Yew, in the final.
Here in this interview with TimesofIndia.com, Sen, who is world No. 13 now, opens up about that win and what he sees ahead for himself in the new year and beyond.
A first World Championships medal in your family of badminton players, followed by your first Super 500 title. Sum up this phase of your career for us…
My brother and father were there for the match (India Open final) and they were really happy. Then I called my mom, who congratulated me. My father was there for the World Championships as well. Everyone is happy with the performance, especially Vimal (Kumar) sir and Prakash (Padukone) sir.
Talking about your coach, Vimal Kumar, at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, he said you were in total control of the match during the India Open final. Tell us about that.
I think the game plan that we had before the match was working really well. I stuck to how I wanted to play. All my shots were also going perfectly from the net. I was getting a good length and he couldn’t finish the rally on the first or second stroke; he had to work on the rally. That way I was playing much more patiently than other matches and was in control of the game.
You had played Lew on the circuit before the India Open final. How much of a help was that in a high-pressure final?
He has been playing well on the World Tour circuit. I had played against him three times before this. It was not new for me or for him. We had also trained together in Dubai. So I think we both knew what to expect from each other. In the last 4-5 months, I have played him four times now. Before the India Open final, he had won twice and I had won once. But I always had the confidence and belief that I could win the match, as I had beaten him before.
It was a big event, (a chance) for me to win my first Super 500 title. So I think we knew what to expect. But yes, the tournament and the match pressure was different from other matches.
Many believe you are the best bet from India now on the world circuit. What’s your reaction to that?
If you look at the rankings, there are a lot of people in the top 30 who are doing well and on their best day, anyone can beat anyone. Also, there are a lot of players from India, four or five, in the top 30 and all of them are doing really well.
Are you already thinking about the 2024 Olympics?
I want to improve on my rankings and focus on winning big tournaments. As of now, the (2022) calendar has a lot of tournaments. So I have planned for the year. But if something happens later on (because of Covid-19), then we will work on a backup plan. In Olympic qualification itself, there are still another two years. No one can plan that far ahead. We have just planned for the next event.
You have been strongly supported by Olympic Gold Quest since you were 10 years old. How big a role has OGQ played in your journey?
They have supported me throughout my career. It was really helpful. When I was 12 or 13, I could go out on international tours and for training; I had a physiotherapist and coaching facilities and could train abroad especially. That made a really big difference. They have always been there to support me and a lot of other players.
How are you soaking up all the media attention you have received since your World Championships bronze. Do you think it’s a distraction at times?
I think both things are important for players, like recovering on time and preparing for the next event and, for that matter, if the media wants to talk to the player. You have to find the right balance. I am still learning those things. I have people around who I can talk to and take advice from. I try to maintain my training (schedule) and do the media (engagements) at the same time.
What reaction did you get from the national coach, Pullela Gopichand?
I spoke to him and he congratulated me. I haven’t met him personally but we spoke over the phone.