Sen shines, topples world champion Loh to claim India Open title; Chirag-Satwik win doubles

  • The 20-year-old claimed his biggest title by upstaging his friend from Singapore in straight games.
India's Lakshya Sen (PTI)
India's Lakshya Sen (PTI)
Updated on Jan 16, 2022 11:04 PM IST
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By, New Delhi

It was five years ago that Lakshya Sen, a shy, lanky teenager, first made headlines. A third generation badminton player from Almora in Uttarakhand, he had become junior world No 1.

Since then, Sen has regularly made news—first by winning junior titles and then at the senior level. However, most of the senior titles were at lower-tier events where not many top names usually played. Yes, the 20-year-old won bronze at the world championships in Spain last month.

That changed as Sen dropped the ‘rising star’ tag on Sunday by announcing his arrival at the big stage, clinching the $400,000 India Open—a Super 500 event—on debut at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here.

The victory was all the more special as he defeated new world champion Loh Kean Yew 24-22, 21-17, becoming only the second Indian men’s singles player to win his home Open since it was elevated to Superseries/Super 500 level in 2011, after Kidambi Srikanth in 2015.

“It feels good. Towards the closing stages I was a bit nervous and anxious but managed to pull out the points in the end,” said the third seed after his 54-minute battle. “I gave away a couple of easy points towards the end, trying to finish it off quickly, but at match point I took it calmly. It gives me a lot of confidence to start the season by winning a Super 500 event.”

Though not always at the highest level, Sen has shown remarkable consistency in finals—he has now won six of the last seven he has contested with his lone defeat coming against fifth seed Loh.

Having faced each other four times previously, the two knew each other’s game. One main reason Loh won the world title was his sharp net game, which helped him draw level from 14-19 down in the first game. It caused Sen problems, especially when the Singaporean had two game points.

“His net play was better than me in the first game but I didn’t allow him to come close to the net in the second. I was confident and maintained better control by pushing the shuttle to the back,” said Sen, who leads 3-2 in career meetings against Loh.

“My attack worked well. I scored some good winners from loose lifts and when the shuttle was behind (me) I was more patient, used variation in drops. I was patient and went for the attack when needed. The small breaks also helped me stay calm.”

Friendly rivalry

Sen shares a close friendship with Loh, 24. They have a very similar career graph. They are ranked close (Sen is 15, Loh 17), have won multiple titles in the lower tiers with major recognition coming at the 2021 world championships. The two were in touch, exchanged messages on Instagram and even discussed how they were felicitated in their home countries on return from Spain last month.

Apart from improving significantly on the tour in 2021, they also trained together in September along with Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen. “On court we are rivals, but off it we are friends. He is a fun guy to be around. After the world championships we discussed what we’re going to do because it had been a long season and everyone needed rest. We’re in constant touch and also plan to go back to Dubai,” said Sen.

Chirag-Satwik triumph

Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy pulled off one of the biggest wins of their career when the world No.10 upset top seeds and three-time world champions Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan 21-16, 26-24 in 43 minutes. The second seeds saved five game points and converted their only championship point to earn their second victory in five meetings over the Indonesian world No.2. “We knew they were tired and would take risks. We kept things tight and it worked,” Rankireddy said.

They are the first Indian pair to win a doubles title here since the event gained Superseries/Super 500 status. It was their second Super 500 title, having won the 2019 Thailand Open in Bangkok. It is only the second time that Indians have won two titles at the India Open, after Srikanth and Saina Nehwal in 2015.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022