Lakshya Sen interview: 'Padukone and Vimal have made a big difference' - Hindustan Times

Lakshya Sen interview: 'Padukone and Vimal have made a big difference'

Mar 29, 2024 06:24 AM IST

The 22-year-old has staged a solid turnaround in recent times to all but assure himself of a berth at Paris 2024.

Lakshya Sen’s career was on a downward spiral after suffering eight early exits – seven in Round 1 – from September to January. He also split with coach Anup Sridhar late last year. To make matters worse, his chances of qualifying for Paris Olympics became tougher as he slipped in the rankings.

India's Lakshya Sen plays a shot during the men's singles semi-final match against Indonesia's Jonatan Christie (AP)
India's Lakshya Sen plays a shot during the men's singles semi-final match against Indonesia's Jonatan Christie (AP)

But the 22-year-old staged a solid turnaround by reaching the semi-finals of both the French Open and All England Open earlier this month to all but assure himself of a berth at Paris 2024.

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The Commonwealth Games champion discusses his lean patch, having both Prakash Padukone and U Vimal Kumar in the coach’s chair and Paris qualification among other topics in this interview. Excerpts:

Seven successive Round 1 exits and split with coach Anup Sridhar. How tough was the period from September to January?

There were a lot of changes in training. Keeping the results in mind, the confidence was not at a good place. I was struggling for form. But a few things that I changed in training in December were crucial in getting my confidence back. I started spending more hours on the court. I worked on my strengths and at the same time on things I needed to improve. It took me some time, but I started playing well. Malaysia Open and India Open didn’t go well but the way I played at Indonesia Masters (in January 2024) gave me a lot of confidence. Slowly, the things I was trying in training had started to show in the game. I was able to do those things at Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC). I was looking forward to playing more matches because I didn’t get many matches under my belt earlier. That part was missing. That helped me really prepare for the European circuit.

Can you elaborate about these changes?

Just spending more time on court and small things like working on particular strokes, working on variations from the back where I can keep the opponent guessing, focussing on standing shots, spend another 30-40 minutes after the session trying to sharpen dribbles and drops from the back. That is the tactical part. (Earlier) I didn’t get much time. Because of Paris 2024 qualification there were so many tournaments and I was always preparing for a tournament, coming back and leaving again. After November when the tournaments got over, I got a good 5-6 weeks where I could really train well and build my fitness to a certain level. It still needs a lot of improvement but last December-January was a key training phase.

Was there self-doubt during such a lean phase?

Yes. A few things needed to be addressed. During matches I felt there were things I needed to improve. After matches we would sit and analyse the key areas to improve on and areas I was doing right. It was tough. Prakash (Padukone) sir and Vimal (Kumar) sir told me to trust the process, train well, be disciplined, give my 100 percent at all times and not be in a hurry. They told me not to panic, to hang in and be patient for the results to come. I had been putting in the effort for a long time in training, doing all the right things but the results were not coming. So, yes there was self-doubt.

Wins at BATC, semis in both France and All England. How close are you to playing your best, like you did in 2022?

I can’t really compare both the situations. Then I was playing freely with no pressure. Now to perform under pressure where you know your Olympic qualification looks a little uncertain. There were a lot of what ifs, a lot of uncertainty. But the way I played in those situations, it was good. I want to continue this momentum in future tournaments, just keep building and I can get better in all the aspects a lot more. From here on till Paris, a lot of work has to be put in. I would say I am close to playing at my best but there’s a lot of scope for improvement.

How was it to have both Vimal and Padukone in the coach’s chair? What do they bring to the table while travelling with you?

It was the first time Prakash sir travelled for a tournament. Vimal sir has been around. From January he regularly started travelling with me. In terms of confidence, the things they get out of me when I am playing, really push me to the limits. They are always positive about the result and motivate me from behind. Off the court, they make me stay disciplined and make sure I am settled and have no added pressure. They see to it the whole team is around me, be it the physio, mental and physical trainers. It made a big difference when they were around, sitting for the matches. Lot of matches were really close where I was started with a game down. They just told me to hang in there, keep doing the basic things right and be patient with the result.

Does the fact that you’ve trained under them since your childhood bring the comfort factor when they are around?

Definitely. They have a lot of experience. As a kid they helped me reach my full potential. I have belief in them that whatever they say is right. If I follow that I will do well. But they also give me the freedom to express myself on court. Certain tips they give during a match always encourages me to go out there, think what is required and then perform. They know what to tell and at what time.

Have their coaching styles changed from earlier when you were an amateur to now?

From the very beginning they made sure that I do things very professionally where I am on time, especially for recovery. Be very disciplined about training. With them around in the last few tournaments made a big difference. I was much more into the games. After matches I could sit with them and talk to them about the tough matches and focus on the next ones against very tough opponents. They made sure everything was in place.

In another month’s time, India will be defending the Thomas Cup title. Your thoughts on the draw and India’s chances?

It is a good draw. The other two teams (Thailand and England) we face are comparatively easier than Indonesia. But it is Thomas Cup, a big team event. There will be pressure to defend the title. As a team we are confident. If we do well, we can defend our title. It will be a good match against Indonesia. If we qualify for the knockouts, we will take it one match at a time. Our team is strong and we can beat any team in the world.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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