India Open: Lakshya Sen, Loh Kean Yew, Katethong show badminton Next Gen is here

Who knew that the Next Gen of badminton singles wasn’t twiddling their thumbs and toes through the pandemic, waiting, but instead were welting in the wings. Ready to hammer. At the first chance they could grab. Who knew ahead of the winter World Championships that Singaporean Loh Kean Yew could grow limbs that could strike down like lightning. Or that Lakshya Sen could soak up all the attacking shuttles flying around him, and work up the momentum to channel that lightning speed – as he well might – into his Mjolnir arms, as the two head into a tantalising final of the India Open.

Not many had guessed that Supanida Katethong could prance around with a hat-tip to Carolina Marin’s southpaw sallying offensive. And in the process dislodge PV Sindhu from her backyard coronation.

The theme will reach its culmination should Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty take control of the net against Indonesian Hendra Setiawan and Mohamad Ahsan in the doubles final and outwit the Daddies, badminton’s smartest seniors of all time. And if Satwiksairaj, the baby amongst big-hitting Bulldozers, rouses his mind and rotates the shoulder raucously to impose his class on a title contest. Against French Delrue-Villeger in the 21-10, 21-18 semis win, Chirag pottered around pugnaciously as the Indians’ 4 match points went a begging, before Satwik left his net perch, moved back and sent down an unreturnable kill — one almighty swing to spool them all, who were resisting.

That the Sunday Finals of the Covid-ravaged Super 500 has still managed to pick out two finalists — both of whom were on the Huelva World’s podium a month ago, is a testament to that aforementioned subversion of established names that’s happened in the wings.

Lakshya Sen is rampaging. He’s not dominating his opponents — Malaysian NG Tze Yong had the strokes, strength, strategy and first set shelter, to pack off the Indian. But such has been Sen’s singular ability to shrug off the past — even the immediate past like the opening set — and go frantically chasing the next point that no leads are safe with opponents. He is insistent, he is defending like a dream, and on Saturday, summoned winners at will — the variety of kills being breathtaking. Tze Yong wasn’t giving him an inch, but Sen couldn’t stop pulling wild angles out the hat, winning 19-21, 21-16, 21-12.

Sen literally chomped into Tze Yong’s assured game, deflated his confidence as the match wore on, and strangled his opponent’s near-errorless game, to win. Against Loh Kean Yew, known for his relentless speed, Sen can let loose some lawlessness, because, with his inscrutable face and merciless retrievals, Sen is spooking opponents into hopelessness currently.

The World Champion is far from brittle even when pushed, but Sen is not letting go of matches, and such persistence can rattle those expected to win. It’s not that Sen doesn’t believe he can’t lose. It’s just that his mind is conjuring ways every minute to win.

PV Sindhu, the original non-give-upper, found her match in Thai Supanida Katethong, a leftie who, not unlike Sen, refused to bow down or retreat, and won 21-14, 13-21, 21-10. The Thai blitzer has an accomplished southpaw game, and though deception is never far away from the Ratchanok school of elegant stroke-making, Katethong relied on an incessant attack to bully the Indian biggie.

Unlike Sen who’s enjoying a no-pressure freshman season under arclights, Sindhu looks a tad under pressure. She can still bombard with her big game, but Supanida, who looked wholly confident of her own armoury, pushed the pace and negated the power, a little as Marin does.

The big names of badminton are hibernating alright. But a succession could be underway, as an early 20s young brigade finds its feet.

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