PV Sindhu is building a legacy of her own and Lakshya Sen is showing signs of becoming Indian badminton’s most sought-after ‘poster boy’ but, with less than two years for Paris Olympics, the twin Commonwealth Games gold is only a small part of the bigger picture.
It’s the quadrennial extravaganza in Paris, two years from now, where the duo would like to have “an evening” to remember. Sindhu, with a mission to etch her name in the record books, with an unprecedented third individual medal at the Olympics. And Lakshya, by breaking the jinx of medal-less Indian male players since the game’s inception in the 1992 edition in Barcelona.
While Sindhu once again kept her date with history in Birmingham with an elusive title, Lakshya’s maiden gold on debut underlined his emergence as the ‘Most Valuable Player’ amongst male in the current era.
What Sindhu has achieved in women’s game, if Lakshya can emulate even half of it, the Indian badminton is in for more glory days in the coming days.
Sindhu’s pursuit of greatness
With a blemish-free record, the legend of Sindhu’s only grew in Birmingham and when we have a debate about India’s greatest in Olympic sports, you can only ignore Sindhu at your own peril.
Sporting achievements are always backed by statistics but Sindhu has those numbers backing her heady achievements. She may not have won many BWF world tour events or Super Series tournaments but that is just a minor blip in what has already be an illustrious career.
She is player for big occasions and time and again has proved that. When the bar needs to be raised, she does that with ease.
She has won five world championships medals — only the second woman after China’s Zhang Ning ever to win five or more singles medals in the showpiece event.
She is also only the second individual athlete from the country to win successive medals at the Olympics. Add to that the Asian silver and bronze, the two bronze medals at the Asian Championships, the two bronze as part of India’s Uber Cup team and the BWF World Tour Finals title — her achievements will be hard to surpass in the years to come.
If a certain Saina Nehwal had shown India how to slay the Chinese, Sindhu simply shattered the hegemony of all the Asian giants in a decade-long career.
The Yihan Wangs, Shixian Wangs and Xuerui Lis have gone, while she has towered over her peers such as Carolina Marin, Nozomi Okuhara, Akane Yamaguchi and Chen Yufei mostly when it mattered and stayed unscathed from injuries.
Tai Tzu-ying has been an aberration but every player has one such achilles heel. While her contemporaries have been in and out due to injury layoffs, Sindhu has remained one of the most consistent players in the circuit and one of the reasons is her fitness.
She put extended hours under strength and conditioning trainer Srikanth Verma to strengthen her body to last the long rallies, to beef up the legs and shoulder and back to be able to cover each corner of the court with ease and last the rigours of international badminton. She was always a great retriever but she has never stopped working on her game and evolved into a much fitter and faster competitor, who can switch pace, possess great tactical acumen and has the heart to fight till the end.
On Sunday, Sindhu seemed like a woman on a mission but her ultimate mission will be to change the colour of medal in Paris.
Sen’sational Man, Lakshya fixed
With a gold medal in Birmingham, Lakshya showed he has the character of a champion and is ready to take over the baton from his illustrious compatriots to lead India’s charge in future.
The performance will also put to rest the disappointment of the near misses when he had lost the finals of the All England Championships in March and returned with a bronze from the World Championships in Spain last year.
Like Sindhu, Lakshya too had shown early signs of his prowess. He was an uncut diamond in a pool of fizzled-out talent, which was polished at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy.
After winning medals at the junior World Championships, Asian meet and Young Olympics, the 20-year-old from Almora had bagged five titles in the senior circuit in 2019.
His confidence was busting at the seams but then came the COVID-19 pandemic. But the break only made him more hungry and desperate to win and when tournaments resumed, Lakshya started putting on the court everything that he had learnt.
A World Championships bronze in December, the India Open Super 500 title, an All England silver and the Thomas Cup gold soon catapulted him to stardom.
So what went behind the making of Lakshya?
Lakshya had the skill sets and class of a champion but he was injury prone. The boy from the hills had the lung power but he lacked the strength to complement his power game.
“He has a sort of game, where he is diving around to retrieve shuttles. It is physical, unorthodox, which makes him more injury prone,” his mentor and coach of PPBA Vimal Kumar said.
“So physios had a hard job to work on his body. He plays a power game, so he needs strength and he has been concentrating on that.”
Over the years, the time spent under different coaches such as Danish legend Morten Frost and Peter Gade and short training stints with Viktor Axelsen opened up his game and made him tactically more mature as a player.
“He has become tactically better now. He was calm against Loh Kean Yew (in mixed team event). The more tough matches he plays, will help him get better tactically and devise his strategy,” Vimal said.
“We don’t want him to depend on coaches and want to see him evolve as an independent player, who can take responsibility for his career. I am happy with his progress so far.”