Lakshya Sen can Glimpse All England glory

Lakshya Sen after winning the All England QF ( Source: Jio Cinema Screengrab )

It was well past midnight, and yet I wasn’t sleepy for a second. Lakshya Sen was playing some incredible badminton and making the point that he was back to his best. Even when he lost the first game after an incredible late surge, it was clear that his corner was all charged up. The legendary Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar both rushed to Lakshya, and instructions were passed on. Sen was nodding in agreement and looked focussed to make amends in the second game.

And he did. In style. Deft placements meshed with power smashes, Sen upped his game and Lee Zii Jia found it hard to contain him. At multiple points did the momentum shift, but each time Sen found a way to make it back.

Game 3 was similar, and it was Sen who always held the upper hand. At 19-15, it was almost done for Sen. Or so we thought. Some basic errors cost him a couple of points and Lee found rhythm from somewhere to make it 19-19. It was tense. You could see Padukone and Vimal both urging Sen to stay calm. He was near and yet it wasn’t done yet. That’s when he played a very good point and there was a strange stillness everywhere.

I could hear my own breathing and was mentally transported back to Birmingham. Padukone, a legend, was also finding it hard. You could sense his restlessness, while Vimal was just focussed on his student to make sure he did not make a mistake. Mentally, he was into Sen’s mind and it made for excellent sport. And just as the final shot from Lee whizzed past Sen’s face – it was an excellent piece of judgment – he lay down on the court with arms stretched. He had made the semi-finals and found his mojo.

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Playing some extraordinary badminton, he had kept himself and India alive in the tournament. As he got up and was about to run to his corner, his coaches asked him to go to his opponent first. That’s what sport is about. Sen crossed over and gave Lee a warm handshake. Both had given their best and neither wanted to lose. Sen was the winner but only just. And then, he rushed to Padukone and Vimal and you could sense relief. Elation and relief, with a semi-final against Jonathan Christie on Saturday evening.

Christie, who made it when Shi Yuqi retired after one game, will be the fresher of the two players. Sen will need to recover and recover well. He will need to dig deep for he is on the cusp of history. With Viktor Axelsen out of the way and Shi not there either, Sen has a golden chance to go all the way. Padukone and Vimal will know it. And he will too. Just that his body needs to respond, and so does his mind.

We need that stillness back, where Sen and his coaches become one. They aren’t there to lose. Come what may. And as fans, we will all be there in spirit to push him on. Pullela Gopichand came 20 years after Padukone. Could we have a Sen triumph 20-plus years after Gopi? With Paris months away, can it get any better?

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