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Prankster to world beater: Story of Lakshya Sen who gave India the lead in Thomas Cup final

Vimal Kumar remembers an 8-year-old prankster’s face that would plunge right into a puddle of tears when he was caught mid-prank. Lakshya Sen may additionally cutely pull a frowning face and faux as if he had nothing to do with no matter unsavoury enterprise had gone on. And then he additionally bawled when he misplaced a match.

Years later, Vimal would watch Sen play the All England last and beat World No 4 Anthony Sinisuka Ginting 8-21, 21-17, 21-16 to offer India a 1-0 lead within the Thomas Cup last in opposition to Indonesia.

“Something’s changed totally. He feels like he can get these big wins. It’s some steel, determination that’s suddenly noticeable in him,” Vimal Kumar says of an alloy he helped burnish. “I told him many, many times that ‘When you are on the fringes, you can be dropped anytime. You need to become the best player, so that they come and say we want you to play in the team,” Sen’s mentor had mentioned after the All-England.

Many extra elements contributed to the 20-year previous Sen rising up nearly in a single day. But the younger breakthrough star had at all times abhorred being evaded the game.

“I remember Prakash (Padukone) once asked him, ‘Are you homesick?’ And Lakshya said, ‘Yes’. So we told him, ‘We’ll send you home tomorrow.’ He was taken aback and never asked to go home (Almora) again!” Vimal recollects.

At different occasions when the younger trainees on the Prakash Padukone Academy sneaked out to look at films on the auditorium on the highest flooring after they had been advised to sleep by 10 pm, Vimal punished them in different methods. “The best punishment is to take them away from badminton for one week. They never repeat the same mistake. Though he was naughty, he never refused any training. But the few times of indiscipline, I’d quietly tell them, ‘Take a week off.’ That’s it. They hated that,” he recollects with a chuckle. “If they really value their game, they inevitably listen. Lakshya learnt this quickly.”

It’s democratic management over gamers realizing they’re captive to the game itself. “In Asian badminton, we try to control the players too much. I preferred leaving it to their choice. It has its pluses and minuses,” Vimal concedes.

Yet one other function of Vimal’s teaching which helped the quiet boy from the hills divulge heart’s contents to him was when he gave him a free go to problem his authority. “I used to tell Saina (Nehwal) too. A coach-ward relationship isn’t just about the game. I’d be fine if you argued with me about something in training you didn’t agree with. Talked back at me or even shouted back at me. I wanted my players to be independent. And though things have not reached a stage where Lakshya has actually screamed back, I’m very proud of the personality he’s developed.”


An impartial, thinking-on-his-feet shuttler Lakshya would possibly’ve grown into, however the nuts and bolts of his sport, and a few ramparts even, bear imprints of some well-known video games.

One of the identifiable traits of Padukone Academy trainees, one they consciously work on, are the net-tumbles. “It’s the academy’s ethos because Prakash was very good at the net, he dominated there and used it as a strength,” Vimal says. “Lakshya was obsessed with the smash and the jumps watching (Lee) Chong Wei and Taufik (Hidayat) videos. But we insisted that he work on his net game if he wants to be good at singles. Lakshya was systematically coached in that area.”

Against Lee Jii Zia within the semis at Birmingham, it was that one further internet dribble that almost all annoyed the Malaysian. “It’s the counter-dribble actually I’m most proud of,” Vimal says. The choice is at all times between lifting the shuttle which is simple, or stick with the dribble on the internet. Most select to carry, however Sen runs with the boldness that he can keep invested within the tight spun dribbles after which reap the advantages of opponents’ impatience.

Vimal personally additionally labored on Sen’s fast clips downing the shuttle and the sting of deception on the quick, attacking clears. There was additionally the chiselling of the lifts – ought to Sen need to go for them, they had been imagined to go increased than the rival’s hittable zone, ideally irretrievable.

This selection was used like a holding midfielder’s position in soccer – to not hoard factors and dazzle however to assemble, mendacity in wait and likewise as screens for an assault that he would sparingly use.

As coach, Vimal wasn’t too fussed about Sen’s losses to the likes of Thai Kunlavut Vitidsarn and Chinese Li Shifeng. “But after losing to them, Lakshya himself realised it was because they could retrieve and he was just trying to hit through them.” For a boy that cried after each loss in his colt years, the reversals silently damage.

Vimal performed alongside the Danish nice Morten Frost between 1985-88 at England’s most interesting shuttle facility, the Wimbledon badminton and squash courtroom. It’s the place he watched Pakistan squash ace Jansher Khan do hill circuit runs for hours on finish. But it’s additionally the place he noticed Frost’s protection.

India’s Lakshya Sen (Reuters/FILE)

“Morten was World No 1 then, and he used to train with a bunch of us – Darren Hall, Stephen Bradley, Stephen Butler. He only obsessively worked on his footwork and defense!” Vimal recollects.

Frost would play to his sparring accomplice’s strengths. “We thought we are running him close, but he always skipped to win in the end because defense kept him in play,” Vimal says, including that Frost labored with Sen a couple of years in the past on on-court considering. There are shadows of that flick-switch considering in how Sen has been going about ending his matches.

“When he was really down against Viktor (Axelsen) at the German semis, he could up his pace and attack after frustrating him with retrievals. He did that to Kenta Nishimoto too in Jakarta after rallies of 40-50-60 shots. He can suddenly attack with speed, and that variation is something we used to just talk about. He’s actually doing it,” Vimal says, a tad pleasingly stunned.

Lakshya Sen Lakshya Sen shocked the defending champion 21-13, 12-21, 21-19. (Twitter/BWF)

Vimal reckons the success of Sen’s final two weeks may be traced again to the fortnight he spent coaching with Viktor Axelsen in Dubai. “When he came back from Dubai, he wanted to continue training on his new routines: the 1 minute, 45 second, 2 minute high-intensity drills where he also added new strokes. We didn’t want to curb the new thinking,” Vimal says.

New Korean coach Yong Soong Yoo – who’s slowly making a hybrid program for shuttlers at Bangalore combining the robust taskmaster Korean methods with Padukone’s coaching motifs – introduced his personal distinctive insights. “Why we preferred him was because he has worked with the bunch of Chinese juniors now graduating to seniors and their top doubles teams. He couldn’t go to Tokyo but we snapped him up, and his commitment in every session is incredible.”


The Korean taking up had been within the pipeline for some time. Propping up Lakshya’s protection had actually taken out Vimal’s shoulder. “The multi-feed sessions were important but we didn’t have enough sparrers for Lakshya. So I ended up sending down thousands of smashes in practice. We had done this for Saina too to prepare for Carolina Marin and Yohan Wang. After all these years it took a toll and I ruined my shoulder and back,” he laughs. The arrival of the Korean coach was a soothe for his overworked again.

His thoughts although was ticking always via the years find the most effective coaching setups for Sen. Be it the early ones to Malaysia and Indonesia, or the current ones in France with Peter Gade.

An impartial, thinking-on-his-feet shuttler Lakshya would possibly’ve grown into, however the nuts and bolts of his sport, and a few ramparts even, bear imprints of some well-known video games. (File)

Vimal’s first punt in teaching had been on the now-retired 2008 Olympian Anup Sridhar. “I had lots of hopes from him, and at 21 he was getting big results,” he recollects, of the shuttler whose sport got here undone by a sequence of heel accidents. “When we sent him to Denmark, he didn’t like it. Found it too cold and didn’t enjoy. I still wonder where he could’ve been had he stayed back there,” Vimal wonders. The academy graduated the seniors and introduced in a brand new crop in 2010; Vimal was initially extra impressed with Chirag, Lakshya’s elder brother. With Lakshya, Vimal desperately hoped, coaching in Europe would take root.

Having lived in England for 10 years, whereas Padukone educated in Denmark for six, the duo was nicely positioned to steep Sen into the European brew. “The membership tradition and league are big there. Even youngsters take satisfaction representing their golf equipment. I needed my gamers to do this, turn out to be crew gamers.

“Prakash had told me that he was picked for Thomas Cup as national champion at 16 but not allowed to play singles. So he went ahead, played doubles and won. You never refuse to play for the team, that’s the mentality Lakshya should have. So I encouraged him to go play at the Asian team event recently despite him being in quarantine for six days and not getting to play. I told him, ‘Never mind, still play.’ He’d gotten his shoulder injured playing doubles in a team event in 2020, but I still will always urge him to play team events. I’m glad putting in that commitment is helping him become a better player,” Vimal says.

It’s why one thing would possibly’ve snapped when Lakshya Sen didn’t make the Thomas Cup crew. As the coach by no means fails to remind, retaining Sen away from a badminton competitors at all times brings out a revolutionary riposte from him. This one took him all the way in which to the All England last.

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