Lakshya Sen, the new poster boy of Indian badminton, has some unfinished business in Birmingham.
Four months ago, it was in Birmingham that he became the first Indian man in 21 years to reach the finals of the All England Championship. only to see the gold medal slip out of his hands.
The 20-year-old from Almora will have another opportunity to dazzle in Arena Birmingham this year and he is keen to go all the way, albeit, in a different tournament – the Commonwealth Games, beginning July 28.
“I like playing in that hall, the conditions suit me. I have good memories there and I am very confident that I will do well this time too. This is also a big tournament, so I am looking forward to giving my best and winning a medal,” Sen told PTI.
“All the top 3-4 players have a good chance of winning the gold and I am not thinking about the colour of the medal, I just want to go there and focus on one match at a time.” Four years ago, Sen, then a 16-year-old budding shuttler, remained glued to his TV set as India scripted history at Gold Coast, claiming the country’s first mixed team badminton gold.
It turned out to be an important year for the ‘wonder boy’ as well as he won the Youth Olympics mixed team gold in Buenos Aires, became the Asian Junior Champions in Jakarta, and also secured a bronze at the World Junior Championships.
“Last time I watched it on TV was when India won the gold. Before that, I also watched (Parupalli) Kashyap bhaiya win the gold (in 2014). But 2018 was a nice moment. I wanted to be there in that team,” Sen said.
“Commonwealth Games is a prestigious event for India. I think it will be up there along with world championships in terms of priority. Everyone aspires to play in the Olympics but before that, you try to get used to such multiple events and do well in them.
“So I have been thinking a lot about how as a team we can repeat the achievement we got last time. It will be tough to win but I am looking forward to it.”
While England has been the most successful team with 8 titles and five-time champion Malaysia also emerged as a dominating force between 1998 and 2014, India managed to tame the Asian giant in the last edition.
This time, Malaysia will be without its top singles player Lee Zia Jia, ranked 5th in the world, but Sen reckons it will not make the job any easier.
“Malaysia is a good team, they have 5-6 decent singles players. So one pulling out, maybe, it affects them but we are just hoping that we play well and beat Malaysia and win the gold.” Sen, who was part of India’s epic Thomas Cup win in May, didn’t have an ideal build-up to the multi-sport as he was down with a minor shoulder injury and had to skip the twin Malaysia events.
“I was feeling the pain in Indonesia, so I decided to take two weeks off and skip Malaysia leg. For the first two weeks, the focus was on fitness, so there were a lot of off-court workouts and extended gym time. But now the focus is more on skills and badminton training,” said Sen.
Sen, a world championships bronze medallist, is expected to face Singapore’s world champion Loh Kean Yew and silver medallist and compatriot Kidambi Srikanth during the tournament.
While he has a 3-2 record against Loh, Sen lost to Srikanth during the 2021 World Championships.
“I don’t think much about past performances and also in badminton, there are so many tournaments that there is not much time. You have to move on and prepared for the next event,” he said.
“But I try to learn from it, talk to my coaches and figure out some points. Next time when I am playing against them, I watch those matches, and analyse and prepare accordingly.” Sen, a product of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, has been in the form of his life for about a year now.
After securing his maiden world championships bronze in December last year, Sen won his first Super 500 title at India Open in January and finished runner-up both at the All England Championships and German Open. He also played his part in India’s memorable Thomas Cup win.
“I have been working on my mental discipline and on-court thinking and I have improved on that aspect in the last few months. I think playing at a very high level has given me confidence. All the experience in the last year is helping but I still have to continuously work on that a lot.” Another thing that helps him to focus is music.
“I mostly listen to Hindi and Punjabi songs before matches. I like Arijit Singh and right now I am listening to his latest song ‘kesariya’ on a loop,” he signs off.