Birmingham: Lakshya Sen’s dream run at the All England Championships ended with a heartbreaking straight-game loss against world number one and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the men’s singles final on Sunday, continuing India’s 21-year-long agonising wait for the coveted trophy.
After four days of sensational badminton, the 20-year-old Sen faltered on the cusp of history as he committed too many errors to go down 10-21 15-21 to former champion Axelsen in a lop-sided summit clash that lasted 53 minutes at the Barclaycard Arena.
“I think the strategy was there. I played him last week but today he was looking solid in attack and defence as well. He was really patient and played a really good game,” Sen said after the match.
“In the opening game, I committed a lot of errors, that cost me the game. I was there in the second game but again he was too solid for me to put the shuttle down.”
On Saturday, Sen had become only the fifth Indian after Prakash Nath (1947), Prakash Padukone (1980, 1981), Pullela Gopichand (2001) and Saina Nehwal (2015) to reach the final of the prestigious tournament after outwitting defending champion Lee Zii Jia in a gruelling semifinal.
A week back, Sen had recorded his first win over former world champion Axelsen en route to his final appearance at the German Open but he couldn’t sustain his craft on Sunday as his highly-fancied rival returned the favours, claiming his fifth overall win against the Indian.
“There was a lot of pressure before the match but when I was on court it was just another match for me. I played really crucial match yesterday and that gave me confidence but credit to him for playing a perfect game.”
While 2020 winner Axelsen claimed the men’s singles title for the second time, Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi won the women’s singles crown, beating South Korea’s An Seyoung 21-15 21-15 in the final.
Sen couldn’t mount his attack and trailed early on with Axelsen galloping to a 6-0 lead with the help of some precise smashes on the lines.
An aggressive return of serve helped Sen break the run of play but he couldn’t find openings as Axelsen kept the Indian away from the net, keeping him at the baseline with his returns.
A long 61-shot rally ended with Axelsen punishing Sen for his weak lift as the Dane grabbed a huge 11-2 lead at the mid game interval with a flick.
A couple of unforced errors from Axelsen gave Sen two points and the Indian unleashed a cross-court smash to make it 5-13, a gap which proved too big to bridge as the Dane held 11 game-point opportunities with a smash.
Sen saved one before he sent the next wide to give a 1-0 lead to Axelsen.
After the change of sides, Sen tried to engage his rival in energy-sapping rallies but he didn’t get the length right and allowed the Dane to take 4-2 lead.
Sen managed to reduce it to 5-6 but Axelsen used his height and reach to produce some powerful smashes to make it 8-4.
The Dane continued to put the young Indian under pressure with his angles, length and precision to get to a decisive 11-5 advantage at the interval.
Sen couldn’t find a way to breach the defence of his fancied rival, who looked in complete control.
Trailing 10-17, Sen tried to engage his rival in long rallies. The Indian won a 70-shot rally after Axelsen made a wrong judgement at baseline. However, it was soon eight match point opportunities for Axelsen with Sen going to the net.
The Indian saved three match points before sending the shuttle to the net as Axelsen celebrated.
Despite the loss, it has been a creditable performance for Sen, who is still in his early days in elite-level badminton.
“Since the pandemic happened, I have played really good badminton. I have to keep playing continuously at the top level and now I know what it is like to be playing in the big circuit. Every match is important and I have to be prepared and it gives me a lot of confidence,” Sen said.
A product of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, Sen has been in sensational form in the last six months.
He secured his maiden world championships bronze in December last, before winning his first Super 500 title at India Open in January and finishing runner-up at the German Open last week.
Asked about his upcoming events, Sen said he will play the Swiss Open and Korea Open next.
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