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div id=”pcl-full-content”>Going through a rough phase recently, Lakshya Sen suffered yet another first-round exit at the start of the year when he lost to Priyanshu Rajawat at home in the Delhi Open. The message then from his long-time coach Vimal Kumar was simple: ‘Just because you lost some first-round matches recently, doesn’t mean you are a bad player.’

The team around Lakshya believed that the results didn’t necessarily match the work he was putting in. Some of his defeats last year could have been put down to not being in physically good shape but the Delhi Open defeat wasn’t down to that. He evidently has been clocking some of the best fitness numbers he has. But for all that to bear fruit, Lakshya needed a result of significance on the World Tour. Forget qualification for the Olympics, just for his confidence to return, he needed a shot in the arm.

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He received that late on Thursday night in Paris – at the venue for the Olympic Games no less, where he’d still be hoping to turn up later this year. In the round of 16 at the French Open, Lakshya came up with a fabulous come-from-behind win to defeat world No 4 Li Shi Feng 16-21, 21-15, 21-13 in an 81-minute thriller.

With Vimal and the legendary Prakash Padukone on his coaching bench, Lakshya started off a little tentatively against the big-hitting Shi Feng. The rising Chinese star has one of the biggest smashes in the game going around currently, but Lakshya soon got into the groove and showed his whip smash can also be deadly. An intense opening game was in the balance at 10-11 but Shi Feng pulled ahead after the interval. One of the concern areas that remains for Lakshya is to arrest a slide mid-match, where he tends to lose a handful of points on the trot.

That would prove costly again as, despite playing well for the most part, Lakshya dropped the opening game.

But he’d recover quickly and lead from start to finish in the second game to force the decider, nailing a series of down-the-line smashes, after going crosscourt mostly in the opener. “Chhodna mat,” was the message from his coaches. Keep at it. The decider saw a brutal 56-shot rally in the early exchanges and despite some sensational defence from Shi Feng, Lakshya kept at it to take the point… and with it, some wind out of the sails of his opponent.

Shi Feng did have his moments after that too, but physically, Lakshya had the edge. As they changed ends, Lakshya led 11-10. The commentator would soon notice how the Indian was still looking fresh on court while his opponent was fading out. So it would prove, as Lakshya raced through the rest of the match, winning 12 out 13 points at one stage. Lakshya would head over immediately to the coaching bench and offer his respects to Vimal and Padukone, who would have been equally relieved.

On Friday, he will take on a close friend of his – Loh Kean Yew – in a mouthwatering quarterfinal. Both men have struggled for consistency since their highs of late 2021 and early 2022. Lakshya leads 5-3 in the head-to-head and will be carrying confidence from his comeback win against the reigning All England champion.

At the India Open last year, Lakshya had joked when asked about the competition between the class of 2018 junior shuttlers – Lakshya, Shi Feng, Kunlavut VItidsarn, Kodai Naraoka – who have made their transition to the senior circuit. “Thodi si jalan hoti hai (I do get a bit jealous),” he said as the reporters in the press conference room chuckled. “But it is definitely a healthy competition. You get to see very rarely like this, same year’s players that they are in and around the top 10.”

Lakshya however had slipped behind this elite group in recent times. So a win against Shi Feng, with so much riding on the line in the Race to Paris, comes at a timely moment.

Earlier in the day, PV Sindhu also posted a come-from-behind win to reach the quarterfinals. In women’s doubles, Treesa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand overcame former world No 1 Sayaka Hirota and Yuki Fukushima. Playing at their favourite event, top seeds Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty put in another dominant display against Man Wei Chong and Tee Kai Wun to return to the last eight.



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