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Lakshya Sen, with gurus Frost and Padukone, ready to set court on fire

Three years ago when Sen was a rookie in the grind of the senior international circuit and was based in Aarhus, Denmark, Frost was by his side

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When Viktor Axelsen was calling the shots in the All England Open Badminton Championships final against India’s young Lakshya Sen, it was a different beast from what Sen had tamed just days ago at the German Open for his biggest-ever victory. Sen fought, retrieved, varied the length, in short, did everything in his power, but the Olympic champion would not yield. With the first game taken, Axelsen had a chat with his coach during the break. “You are doing well, just do not get caught in flat exchanges with Lakshya,” was the advice that came from the Dane player’s corner. Another Dane present in the Birmingham arena, one of the greatest to have played the game, Morten Frost, could not resist a smile as he translated the coach’s murmur from the commentary box.

Three years ago when Sen was a rookie in the grind of the senior international circuit and was based in Aarhus, Denmark, Frost was by his side, travelling for tournaments and preparing him for life on the road. His game was still unrefined. “In those 6-8 weeks I worked with Lakshya on his physical game, his basics and flat exchanges and to hear how well it has come off, I can take some pride,” said Frost from the commentary box on 20 March.

Frost, who dominated All England in the 1980s winning four titles, is also a friend of Prakash Padukone, who spent a lot of time in working on his touch play. Padukone had a storied rivalry with the Dane and beat him in the semi-finals to win the All-England in 1980. The two champions learnt from each other and had their own scalpels to break the power-laced game of Chinese.

Ergo, when the time came for Sen to graduate from a top junior in the world to the senior level, Padukone handed him over to his friend in Denmark. To that end, the road to the top that Sen is travelling on has been carefully paved by his mentor Padukone and coach U Vimal Kumar. Sen travelled to Aarhus with three academy mates, prepared his own meal and learnt life on and off the court the hard way just like Padukone had done once.

“It was a period when I learnt so much,” said Sen, who returned to Bengaluru yesterday. “I was playing in smaller level tournaments. He (Frost) taught me the importance of physical badminton, fitness and tactical part. I was playing so many matches there.”

Padukone has been a constant presence, giving inputs to Sen after matches and sometimes after seeing replays. “Prakash sir was my idol while growing up. I have learnt from his discipline,” said Sen.

“As a junior, I would love to attack and always go for smashes. But in big venues, you have to play patiently and build on those winners. It has taken time to work on my defence and that comes only with more matches. I got that time during the pandemic.”

Padukone does not take to the courts anymore so it is Vimal, another smart reader of the game, who has toughened up Sen and taught him the importance of thinking on his feet. Sen is now quick to adapt and read his opponents. Be it world champion Loh Kean Yew, world No.3 Anders Antonsen, and Axelsen at the German Open, Sen not only outplayed them but also out-thought them. He has built a solid defence around his superb reflexes, but when it comes to finishing, he trusts his attacks.

“I play according to the opponent, conditions. But when you know the last 8-9 points are going to decide the match, I take my chances. I go for my attack. Now, I have the self-belief to beat the best,” Sen said.

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