Sen shows maturity to clinch India Open

Lakshya Sen played with time. And he toyed around with freshly-minted World Champion Loh Kean Yew while pulling the strings of one of the most nuanced attacks to script a memorable triumph on home ground.

Winning the India Open 24-22, 21-17, Sen took the sting out of the lightning quick champion – Loh’s reputation for hopping around the court, being everywhere all at once, and a wicked hand speed had preceded him. Sen, at the outset, slowed down the pace, to a lulling lilt, from where the Singaporean who feeds off pace found himself a tad boggled.

It wasn’t a one-off phased plan though. Sen’s brilliance lay in starving Loh’s racquet of the shuttle with such control over his shots that the Huelva champion was left hacking at thin air more often than not.

Lakshya Sen with his medal (Twitter/BAI Media)

A bulk of Sen’s deceptive web was spun around Loh’s forecourt forehand corner, where the Indian tumbled the shuttle real fine, forcing the lift-error from a tight returning angle. Loh pulls fast ones – pushes pace, attacks serve at closing stages, and hits his way through. As such, there’s very little variation in his wrist-game, very few to none drops or half-smashes, with seriously-calibrated wristwork on them. He would showboat and over-hit often, even as he got frustrated by Sen’s retrievals.

Sen wasn’t diving around like at the World Championships. Economy of movement also extended to his attack. Only a few smashes went full throttle. He would choose the ones to kill, and add just 20 percent of shoulder power on them. His attack was controlled – there was no need to go bonkers.

Loh’s taps at the net weren’t working as well as against KIdambi Srikanth (in the Worlds final) either. So, the shuttle would be in his vicinity – twice land to his right, but not be of a length that was hittable.

Additionally, Sen wasn’t freezing on the big points and showed steadiness well beyond his years. Even when Loh dug his heels in and threatened to take the opener at 20-20 and 22-22, Sen remained steady, mixing up the speed of his attack – in one instance giving his opponent the smashing opportunity where the shot was within his reach, but bereft of pace.

Sen wasn’t shy to toss the shuttle and bring the speed to braking levels even, in his effort to rob Loh of his speed oxygen.

Unlike Srikanth, Sen made very few errors – the senior Indian had sprayed smashes wide. Sen would break away at 12-9 in the second game, and keep Loh at bay, with a minimum three-point margin. Even two points and the Singaporean could have hustled around in his typical style, but such was Sen’s control that he kept his distance to finish the second on 21-17.

It was in the end game that Sen showed immense maturity. Refraining from going overboard, or hitting harder than needed, he refused to up the gears, patiently doing only the needful to finish with a smash to Loh’s rattled backhand.

Sen has been injury-free for eight months and got stronger and fitter in the last year. But it’s the brain that’s monkishly settled into such a sturdy place of solidity that he looks unbreakable – never mind the reputation of top opponents.

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