Sensational Sen enters third successive semi-final

In the last week of December, Lakshya Sen was given copious amounts of bal mithai and singauri, sweets popular in Almora, not just by family and friends but strangers too who welcomed the 20-year-old back home in the hill town.

Though the shuttler from Uttarakhand had won multiple medals and titles in the past, this was different. After all, he was only the third Indian male in the history of the sport to medal (bronze) at the prestigious World Championships.

But 2021 is up and so are the felicitations. It’s been weeks since he made the semi-final in Huelva, Spain, and now the world No.17 has set his sight on a new target: the $400,000 India Open. The third seed remained on course by reaching his third consecutive semi-final, ousting the seasoned eighth seed HS Prannoy 14-21, 21-9, 21-14 in an hour at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex here.

It is one thing conquering the world, quite another to overcome compatriots who know your game. That is how it was on Friday with two powerful, aggressive players going head-to-head. They had faced each other twice in the domestic circuit and had a 1-1 record. The result was Prannoy running away with the first game and being on the verge of a semi-final.

“Both of us were playing really fast, the pace of the game was really high, there was aggression because of which I made errors at crucial stages like at 13-all or 14-all. It cost me the game. I was not patient, gave away easy points,” said Sen.

That’s when Sen’s new Korean coach Yoo Yong-sung stepped in. Knowing Prannoy’s style of play, the two-time Olympic medallist told his protégé to not rush in, slow down the game and be patient. The advice worked and Sen pushed the contest into the decider. He used the same tactics in the third game and came out the winner in the first contest between the two in an international competition.

“My coach asked me not to worry, that it was still 50-50, the game wasn’t over, just cut down on the errors and start playing patiently by rallying it out. That worked well. From the second game to the third, I stuck to the plan of slowing it down which helped me close the game,” said Sen, who became only the second Indian after Chetan Anand to reach the men’s singles semis of India Open on debut.

Both the World Championship semi-final against Kidambi Srikanth and this tie against Prannoy had one thing in common—Sen refused to give up without a fight.

“Prannoy bhaiya has a really good defence, he can rally it out. Both of them have a different style of game but Srikanth bhaiya is more attacking. From the net, he is very tricky,” said Sen.

Sen’s consistency has also been remarkable. He has made the semi-finals in four of his last six tournaments and now has a brilliant chance of making the final as he faces Malaysian world No.60 Ng Tze Yong against whom the Indian has a 1-0 record.

More withdrawals

Singaporean third seed Yeo Jia Min gave a walkover in women’s singles to Thai sixth seed Supanida Katethong due to high fever on Thursday while Russian Ekaterina Malkova and Anastasiia Shapovalova withdrew from Saturday’s semi-finals due to a back injury, against compatriots and third seeds Anastasiia Akchurina and Olga Morozova.

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