A quiet generational shift is occurring in badminton men’s singles and Lakshya Sen believes he and his peers hold a clear advantage. “There are a lot of tournaments and everyone beats everyone else, so it’s not easy for the big guys to win it all,” says All England 2022 runner-up Lakshya.[Kento] Momota won 11 titles in one year (2019) but that’s no longer possible. The current big names are also aging a bit, so I think the younger players definitely have an advantage. For me personally, I think Kunlavut [Vitidsarn, who he lost to at the German Open] is someone I consider maybe a sort of rival among those around my age. We played a lot of junior tournaments together, so somewhere that fits too.”
A few days ago, Axelsen spoke about the transition from men’s singles, with the wave of young players challenging the established big names. Among the top ten players, except for Axelsen’s position, there has been a change in form and ranking. World number 2 Kento Momota has not been his feared former self. He was soundly beaten by Lee Zii Jia in this year’s semi-finals in Birmingham and two-time world champion Chen Long has not competed on the Tour since the Olympics. The flurry of young players is now moving forward.
The week before the All England, Lakshya Sen beat Axelsen for the first time in their five encounters. On Tuesday, he officially broke into the top 10 of the world rankings and returned to Prakash Padukone badminton academy in Bangalore under a swarm of cameras, sporting his silver medal and a shy smile.
He is now ranked world No. 9 and with Chinese great and world No. 6 Chen Long out of the Tour, that gives the Indian a top-eight seed. This is a major goal that the young Indian has ticked off his list. “One of the main reasons I wanted this to happen is because it gives me the advantage of being seeded in tournaments and not facing any of the top players until the quarters of I’ve faced tough opponents in the first and second rounds in most previous events, so that won’t happen now,” he says. In his next tournament, the Korea Open, which begins on April 5, he ranks sixth in the seed.
“I think I did everything I could to recover after the long semi-final (against Lee Zii Jia),” Lakshya said, “But no matter what you do, the physical conditions, I guess, are never the same if you played a three game match versus a straight match I was also under pressure I wasn’t playing as freely as at the German Open You sit in your room most time, so you end up being on social media. You’re aware of expectations, it’s hard to ignore. But none of that is an excuse. Viktor was just the best player that day. He’s came very well prepared, he has experience of these big events and the draw he won was crucial, once he took a huge lead at the start it became difficult for me to catch up .
“Before, I watched Viktor on TV, then I saw the intensity and the concentration with which he trained. It’s very high. It’s also how he plays the big events”, explains Lakshya. It’s something he tried to emulate. The rigorous off-court work he put in during the month-long break after the Indian Open, he said, helped him in the long games.
“During the one-month break after the Indian Open coach (Yoo Yong Sung) made me do a lot of strength training. The focus was on off-court sessions – running sessions , gym and even on the court I was training in the shade I was doing gym sessions after the full sessions on the court, when my body was already tired It’s something like playing a very long game. I worked on my defense and my footwork with the coach. Whatever I do now, I think is working for me. I have to stick with it and make some small improvements.