NEW DELHI: Describing the Canada Open victory as one of the "greatest comebacks" in his nascent career, star Indian shuttler Lakshya Sen on Monday said the win against the reigning All England Champion gives him confidence and belief in the Olympic qualification year.
Sen saved four game points in the second game of the final to outwit China's Li Shi Feng of China 21-18 22-20, snapping a 17-month wait for a BWF world tour title.
"Coming into the Olympic qualification year, it was tough as things didn't go my way," said Sen, the reigning Commonwealth Games champion.
"So this was one of the good tournaments for me and playing the finals like that is for me one of the greatest comebacks," he said.
Following the high of 2022, Sen endured a low this season after being bothered by the effects of nose surgery that he underwent to treat a deviated septum following the World Championships last August.
His recovery process extended from three months to over eight months and his struggles were reflected in his performance.
He made first-round exits from the last four events of 2022 and found the going tough in the early part of 2023.
His ranking also plunged to world number 25 from six.
"I was training well but post-surgery, I was falling sick and immunity was not well, I had a lot of health issues. I couldn't play 100 per cent. I had prepared well for All England, but again couldn't do well," he said.
Sen also had to make some changes around him after Korean coach Yong Sung Yoo left following the 2022 World Championships.
He got Anup Sridhar on board and also hired Deckline Leitao, a sport and exercise science specialist.
"Since my Korean coach left, there have been a lot of changes, I have tried different things in training and it is all helping me now," said Sen.
"The kind of support system that I have with Anup bhaiya, my physio and I changed my trainer, now I am working with Deckline Leitao. So gelling with all and having Vimal (Kumar) sir and my dad (DK Sen) around, it all helped. I hope to continue the form in the Olympic qualification year, it gives me a lot of confidence and belief," he said.
While HS Prannoy is the highest-ranked Indian at world number 8, Sen and Kidambi Srikanth are ranked at the 19th and 20th spots respectively.
'Want to remain injury free'
A win like this will surely ease the pressure in the Olympic qualification race which began on May 1 but Sen knows it is still a long road ahead with the Olympic period concluding on April 28, 2024.
"I won't say it is a relief, I still have to play a lot of tournaments but this win will give me big motivation that I am doing the right thing and belief in my process," he said.
"There are a lot of tournaments, I will just take the positives from this one. Now that my health issues are sorted, I just want to remain injury free and fit for the good season ahead."
Sen came into the final with a 4-2 head-to-head count against Li Shi Feng, having beaten him on his way to the semifinal finish of the Thailand Open.
"That match was completely different, there was a lot more pressure this time. Today it was more about who controls the net because we both were hitting well and scoring from the back, so had to be quick at the net," he said.
On the competition in men's singles, Sen said, "You can't take any match lightly. Different players have different game styles and the level of badminton is increasing every day, there are a lot of players who are good in the top 30, and they can pose a challenge. So you can't think a lot ahead. Whether I am playing world number three or 30, I go on the court with the same intensity knowing that anything can happen."
Asked how he planned to celebrate, Sen said, "Tomorrow I will be travelling, so Tuesday I will get a feel of the court and play on Wednesday (US Open). There is not much time to celebrate, so probably have a good meal here and then rest and recover."
Asian circuit was the turning point: Coach
Sridhar, who took over as Sen's coach in January, said things started to change for his ward at the Asian swing.
"I feel the four tournament circuit in Asia, it was the turning point. He was playing well and made the semifinals in Thailand, played a close match against Kunlavut Vitidsarn and he has gone from strength to strength," said Sridhar, a 2008 Beijing Olympian.
"Lakshya's frame of mind and temperament has been excellent this week, his shot selection has been good, and he has used a lot of variations but the main thing is he is mentally and physically fit and his improved fitness is showing up."
Sen had shown signs of finding form when he recorded wins over some big names such as Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia, Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien Chen, and Kodai Naraoka this year.
"We spent a lot of time together. He is much younger than me but he is smart and mature. Frankly, it's about a lot of things, it's about having trust in each other," said Sridhar, a 2006 CWG bronze medallist in the mixed team event.
"When you are in a difficult or critical situation like when he was down 16-20, trust is required. He has been good this week, he kept his nerves and he was incredible in the last six points. I would have still backed him if it would have gone to three games but I am very happy how he finished it," he added.