NEW DELHI: DENSE fog that has created chaos (especially in regards to travels), penetrating cold waves that can make one go numb. The weather at this time of the year in the city can be unforgiving. It is especially unforgiving for the elite shuttlers who have assembled here at the KD Jadhav Indoor Stadium for the India Open badminton tournament that got underway on Tuesday. There’s no respite whatsoever as they look to fetch important Olympic qualification points ahead of the Paris Games, which is due to be held later this year.
In this challenging backdrop, India ace shuttler Lakshya Sen, who has had a torrid run in recent months, had entered the BWF Super 750 event with an objective to obtain some answers. Instead, just like the chaotic fog in the city, he exited with more doubts in his mind. Having parted ways with personal coach Anup Sridhar not so long ago, he now needs a good dose of critical thinking in the days to unfold.
Up against compatriot Priyanshu Rajawat in the Round of 32 on Tuesday, Lakshya was following the desired script, playing with a healthy dose of confidence and pulling off some good winners. His positive display was rewarded as he pocketed the first game. However, Priyanshu turned the match on its head with a fighting display in the following two games. As the match wore on, Priyanshu, World No 30, played with more confidence while Lakshya toiled, making unforced errors. In the end, the score read 16-21, 21-16, 21-13 in Priyanshu’s favour. The defeat is yet another blow for Lakshya, who has now crashed out of the very first round in his last eight events on tour (excluding the Asian Games). That is a sorry reading for a shuttler, who has been touted to be India’s dominant force. With the Olympics barely six months or so away, he now finds himself on a tightrope in regards to qualification for the Paris Games. Placed 19th in Race to Paris rankings, he needs to stop the rot soon in order to be part of the equation.
“I can’t answer that at the moment. I’m still in the game, I don’t know what to say,” Lakshya said, when asked about his chances of making it to the Paris Olympics.
Known for his attacking game and turbo speed, the shuttler from Uttarakhand, who’s a Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) product, was once touted to be India’s next big thing. World Championships bronze medal in 2021, Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2022, he was rising at a steady pace before this massive fall. As he struggled to find definite answers in the post-match press conference, he noted a few points that he needs to work on in order to try and come out of this slump. “I have to consistently play my natural game. I have been giving away too many loose points and not being able to play consistently well. I come with a game plan and to some extent, I’m able to follow the same but I still have to work a lot on playing patiently, waiting for the right opportunities,” the 22-year-old assessed.
This defeat might be a big wake-up call for Lakshya but for Priyanshu, this is a welcome result. For someone who’s still learning the trade at the highest level, this victory could propel him to bigger heights in the days to come. The 21-year-old, who’s a trainee at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, will be up against another senior compatriot in the form of HS Prannoy, who got off to a perfect start, in the Round of 16. Prannoy defeated Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei 13, 21-6, 21-19.