The 2021 BWF Badminton World Championships in Spain were special for India as two players — Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen — finished on the podium, marking the first time the male contingent had come so far. It was also the moment 20-year-old Lakshya, in his maiden outing in the competition, officially announced his coming of age on the world stage.
He spoke exclusively to Jyotsna Mohan for Gulf News on his bronze medal win, training in Dubai and his goals for the new year.
This was a roller-coaster year for you, but it was a fine ending. Did you think when you entered the BWF championships, that you would return with a medal?
No, I played quite a few tournaments in the last two-to-three months and this one was the last one. It was quite exhausting for the body to play tournaments continuously. But yes, at the beginning of the tournament there were no expectations from me about winning a medal. I was just taking one match at a time and from the beginning there were tough matches, so I was just concentrating on one match at a time and that’s how I managed to go through them.
The semi-final match you played against Kidambi, did it cross your mind that the match was also a contest between a rising player and a veteran of the sport? Your match in a sense was a reminder of the moments when PV Sindhu started challenging Saina Nehwal.
For both of us it was quite an important match — a world championship match, and for me going into the court I was thinking he is a senior, but the pressure was more on him to win and I was playing a bit freely in the semi-finals. It was a good match and in the last points he managed to pull out the game and credit to home but it was a high-quality match.
What did you learn from that match?
Not just that match, the entire tournament had matches that lasted long and we had to go out there, play our best and then come back and recover for the next one. Since the second round, there were three-setters and recovering for the next match was very important and that is one thing I will continue doing while going forward. My other focus will also be to take risks in the closing stages and pull out points.
How tough was 2021? You had to play a lot of tournaments in a short span of time.
It was very tough. In normal circumstances you play a tournament, come back and recover. This time we didn’t get that interval but at the same time, playing continuous matches allowed me a rhythm which gave me an advantage. Recovery though was tough, and I tried to maintain basic strength and fitness throughout the season.
In 2021, you also spent some time training in Dubai with Viktor Axelsen, the Olympic champion. How was that experience?
It helped me a lot just before the season started to get into a rhythm. We had done a lot of training in Dubai before the season started because there were no tournaments. The training with Viktor and 3-4 other players allowed me to get that match practice, quickness and fitness that was needed. The sparring with the players was very beneficial.
Now that you are finally taking a break, what do you plan to do? Looking at your talent we forget that you are just a 20-year-old.
I plan to rest and want to get rid of my niggles and pains through physio and recovery sessions. I also plan to enjoy my time at home and watch some movies. Whenever I have free time even during trainings, I go out, so I don’t really miss things. Whatever I am doing, I am enjoying it and I do it well. Sometimes you miss home food, other than that nothing else.
You are not from the Gopichand stable unlike so many top badminton players today. Do you feel a little strange playing other players who come across as a team?
Not at all. It was my father’s decision that we go and play in the Prakash Padukone academy, and I still train there. But I know many players from the Gopichand academy since the junior circuit, and we have known each other long and travelled together. I never feel out of the place or that we are from different places. At the end, we are from India, and we go there as a team.
Do you think you will get more pressure after your bronze medal at the BWF Championships? After the Olympics we have also seen that some winners have missed out on training since they were stuck in felicitations and functions.
A player must get back to training soon and manage both the things. This is new for me, especially on such a big stage, the coaches are taking care of it, and I just want to take some time out for myself. So yes, some additional pressure does come when you perform at such a big stage but at the same time you have the confidence that you take to court and as a player you learn a lot from these experiences and whenever I play a next big match next, I will be better prepared.
In 2022, what are we looking forward to?
There are a lot of big tournaments coming — All England, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games. So, I will be targeting them and at the same time I will be looking to improve myself physically and in my game.
There is a lot of discipline that is required to reach where you have at just 20 years old. What will you tell young aspiring players who get discouraged by all the hard work involved?
You have to enjoy the sport more than anything because it takes time to achieve anything. In the beginning you must be patient, the results will come. There must be discipline but at the same time you have to also enjoy the sport.