A severe bout of food poisoning after a meal at the Bangalore airport had left Lakshya Sen drained of all energy three days before the Thomas Cup began in Thailand.
In the last few months, Lakshya has emerged the country’s best singles player—medal at the world championships and All England, and wins over the world’s best including Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen had made him a potent weapon for India going into badminton’s global team competition. The Indian team management was worried as Lakshya was vomitting, fighting cramp and fever in the team hotel.
He was fielded in the first group tie against Germany but pulled out of the next against Canada to give him time to recover. Then came three straight losses against Chou Tien Chen, Lee Zee Jia and Axelsen (all three in the world’s top 10) and Lakshya was left pondering how to get back to his best. Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy and the doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy had conjured sensational wins to propel India to the final when Lakshya was enduring a frustrating time.
Against the 14-time champions Indonesia in the final though Lakshya was a crucial cog, but was staring at a tall task against Anthony Ginting, who was on a roll after two big victories in the knockouts against China (Zhao Jun Peng) and Japan (Kento Momota).
“It took me some time to recover from the bout. I was struggling but before the final we had a day’s break and that helped me recover. I was really pumped up the way the team played to put us in the final. I wanted to win the first point for India,” Lakshya said on Monday, a day after the 3-0 triumph in Bangkok.
In the next hour through his match, Lakshya regained his strength and rhythm to play his best match of the tournament, coming back from a game down to win 8-21, 21-17, 21-16.
“Conditions were very different from both ends and I was not able to get my strokes right playing with the wind (drift). It was difficult to rally and go for the kill. In the second game, from the other side I was able to play my strokes freely and that gave me a lot of confidence going into the third. I didn’t want to give him too much of a lead in the decider. I started pushing him back, played my drives and things started to fall well.”
Ginting, with steep crosscourt smashes, went 12-8 up in the decider before Lakshya took five points in a row to take the lead. He was attacking and intercepting the shuttle mid court. “Once I had the lead it put him under pressure, and that helped.”
A year ago, Lakshya was disappointed after not finding a place in the Thomas Cup team. He did not get direct selection and lost in the trials. A year on, he is a transformed player and part of a team that has achieved Thomas Cup glory.
The camaraderie in the team could be gauged from the fact that players held separate meetings after the one involving the team management was over.
“It is a young team but we have seniors with lot of experience and we bonded really well—Srikanth, Prannoy, everyone. The energy level was unbelievable. We motivated and backed each other. It is like living a dream.”