Viktor Axelsen proves too tall a barrier for Lakshya Sen in maiden All England final


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. (AP Photo)

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Shared News: March 21, 2022 7:21:43 pm
The lead kept growing far too much for Sen to catch up. Unlike the whole tournament, he was also a bundle of nerves on the day. Expectedly too.

India’s wait for an All England title goes into the 22nd year. But come Monday, the country will find itself other preoccupations. Lakshya Sen’s minimum 365-day wait for a shy at next year’s title in Birmingham, though, will feel like eons to him after Sunday’s scalding. Then youngster was properly decimated by the best player of the generation in the 21-10, 21-15 title win for Viktor Axelsen.

Prakash Padukone was 25 when he won the All England, Pullela Gopichand 27, so Sen at 22 will believe his time will come. When cracks won’t appear in his game like they did at 0-5 in the first game, and when he will possess counters to the sort of attack that Axelsen peppered him with, like the World No. 1 and Olympic champion that the Dane is. Sen threw everything he had at his towering, solid opponent on the day. But the final threw into stark relief just how much more he needs to grow to nail down the title. Two of India’s greatest shuttlers channelled their lifetime’s intensity and worship of the sport into trapping down this prize. Sen did well to make the final, and give a grand account of his defensive repertoire and bravery, a big heart too, though the man across the court held all the keys to Sunday’s final.

With a 6-0 juggernaut to start the match. Axelsen went for the lines from the drifty side and had the precision unlike Lee Jii Zia, who Sen had got the better of in Saturday’s semifinal. He had an attack that boomed and stung mightier than Anders Antonsen. The time to stop his attack was before his racquet got anywhere near the shuttle. Quite simply, Axelsen remained un-counterable for most parts.

His tosses disoriented Sen, who was forced to defend high and deep on the backline. The Indian was starved off any maneuvering at the net; he barely got a sniff of it in the opening game as he was kept busy moving from right to left, staring into the top lights, and then suddenly summoned to the forecourt – all that lateral movement tangling his toes, and visibly staggering him once.

Axelsen made Sen scurry to the backline corners, deep forehand a lot of times, and then the 270-degree twists to the backhand back corner, at a fast clip. The net, where Sen roars often, wasn’t merely elusive. It was rushed on him only to draw out errors.

The lead kept growing far too much for Sen to catch up. Unlike the whole tournament, he was also a bundle of nerves on the day. Expectedly too. But for once the man in front of him wasn’t going to falter at the first hint of resistance either.

Sen threw his defence at the Dane in the second, and strung together points in long rallies including a 70-shot scorcher. In one ridiculous phase, both players were error-prone, due to tired limbs. But Axelsen had enough in the tank to take a fat lead and sit on it, rather guard it savagely.

A time came in the second game when Sen looked to be on the brink of launching his typical comeback. At 9-12. But his errors – he went wide and long routinely on the day – weren’t abating to give him relief. He smashed wide in one howler at 11-18. The defence was gallant, especially in the long rallies, but it wasn’t seamless like always. Sen allowed pressure to pop his nerves but also, his frog-like diving and bouncing back wasn’t enough for the sting in Axelsen’s strokes.

Twice, Sen sent tosses from his backhand even for winners. But he was outplayed, outsmarted, outrun and outgunned eventually in his maiden All England final. That no Indian male has even made the final for two decades can put this week in perspective. But for the man himself, the score is one played and one lost. That’ll hurt him enough to go looking for solutions. But India’s 22 years will be no patch on his next 365-day wait to settle this score.