Lakshya Sen’s All England title dream dashed after loss to Viktor Axelsen
The Danish Olympic champion eased to a straight games victory in the final in Birmingham.
Viktor Axelsen towered over Lakshya Sen at the other end of the court. At 6ft 4in, the Danish world No 1 repelled every attack Lakshya Sen sent his way. Smashes, drops, lifts, nothing worked for the 20-year-old Indian on Sunday evening as his hope of becoming the third Indian, after mentor Prakash Padukone (1980) and Pullela Gopichand (2001), to win the coveted All England Open title was doused by the Olympic champion.
In his fourth consecutive final at Arena Birmingham, the Danish top seed lifted his second All England crown by downing friend and occasional training partner 21-10, 21-15 in 53 minutes at the $1 million event. This was his fifth victory over the world No 11 in six meetings. The only time Sen overcame the former world champion was at the German Open semi-finals this month.
“My strategy was in place. I had played him last week but today he was really solid whether in the forecourt or in defence. He was patient, building up his points. In the beginning I made many errors that cost me the first game,” said Sen, who is the first Indian man to reach the All England final in 21 years. “In the second game I tried to put the shuttle down but he was too solid. I played well but he was just too good.”
By reaching the final of the world’s oldest badminton tournament, Sen emulated Prakash Nath (1947), Padukone, Gopichand and Saina Nehwal (2015). Padukone was runner-up in 1981, the year after his victory. Nehwal, like Nath and now Sen, was runner-up.
“There was a lot of pressure before the match but when I entered the court it was just another match. I have played really good badminton continuously since the pandemic, playing at the top level. This is what I have to keep doing. Now I know what it is to play in big tournaments. I am mentally and physically prepared for the road ahead.”
Sen and Axelsen, despite an age gap of eight years, are close friends courtesy Sen’s regular visits for training in Danish academies. The two, and a few other top shuttlers like world champion Loh Kean Yew and 2021 All England winner Lee Zii Jia, also trained together in September in Dubai. The bottomline: the two know each other’s game really well.
From the first point itself, Axelsen started constructing his points beautifully, his smashes hitting the lines to perfection and beyond Sen’s reach. Knowing how good Sen is in net play, Axelsen kept the Indian away from the forecourt by lifting virtually every shuttle to the back court.
The Dane toyed with Sen, making him run from one end of the back court to the other, which sapped the energy of the unseeded Indian, who played almost half an hour more in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Powerful smashes backed by dominant forecourt play helped Axelsen, who was playing his seventh consecutive Super 1000 final, race away to 11-2 in only 10 minutes. He took another 12 minutes to clinch the first game.
Throughout the week Sen’s game has been about patience, which is not natural to him but been drilled in by his coaches. In earlier rounds, even when he was down, he was patient to turn his defence into offence by simply staying in the points, retrieving shuttles and returning to frustrate his opponents who would then try to close the point quickly and end up making errors.
But nothing worked against Axelsen, who fought Sen’s patience with patience by keeping the shuttle in play, playing to his strengths and forcing Sen into errors. The Indian showed moments of brilliance but Axelsen continuously kept taking points to race away to eight championship points. Overall, the Dane won a massive 42 of the 67 points played.
Mentor Padukone, who reached the All England final twice, is pleased with Sen’s performance. “From my own experience, I can say with conviction that reaching the highest level is difficult, but the bigger challenge is staying at that level as it requires a lot more effort and mental strength,” Padukone said from Bengaluru. “He has truly announced his arrival on the world stage, but the greater challenge for him begins now.”