We will have to wait and see whether the so called Age fraud issue is going to effect lakshya Sen’s form when the new BWF season starts with the India open next month in Delhi. And more importantly the season will also be start of the Olympic qualifications for the Paris Olympics 2024.
There is no doubt however that the the Almora boy, was the star performer of 2022, with some mind-boggling performances on the Tour.
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Not one of the top ranked single specialists in the world escaped the magic spewing out of his racket. And that included the man considered to be invincible, Viktor Axelson himself. Viktor is the world and Olympic champion and he lost to the frail looking Indian in a gruelling encounter in the semifinals of the German open. It is not surprising therefore that he smashed through the world rankings to attain a career high rank of world number 6.
“My goal this year was to break into top 20 world ranks. I will be really happy if i can accomplish this. We have a foreign coach now at the academy ( Prakash Padukone badminton academy) and he will be working towards making me good And sharp in movements and defence," he had told me in an interview few months back.
And what a great show by Lakshya in the defensive mold as he dived all over the court retrieving impossible looking barrage of smashes from likes of Axelson, Anders Antonsen, Lee Zhi Jia, the All England champ in 2021, Lee kaun yew, Kunlavut Vitidsarn, Rasmus Gemke and others.
Lakshya reached the finals of the All England and then did well enough to qualify for the year ending Tour Finale at Bali. In the Indian open last January he had demolished Lee Kaun Yew the world champion from Singapore. And then going as hot favourite at the Commonwealth games for men’s singles gold, he ensured that India had its best ever CWG showing.
Lakshya cemented his star status of 2022, when in one if the most unique in Thomas cup ever played, India with help of Lakshya managed to defeat such badminton giants as Malaysia, Denmark and finally the holders Indonesia in the finals and that is too in straight three sets.
If Lakshya was the star of the year, the incredible Thomas cup victory was the talk of the year, and was indeed the best in performance of India in any sports last year. The icing on the cake was the prime minister Narendra Modi, calling every day, talking to the players and motivating them to do better and better.
An ecstatic PM then called the victorious Indian team to have dinner him at the pm residence in the Capital.
Says former chief national coach Vimal Kumar about Lakshya, whom he has trained and mentored for last ten years, “Lakshya is still a work in progress. He is getting fitter and more confident about himself month by month. His appetite for hard work really surprised me. He will keep on playing and practicing the same stroke till he is satisfied. But this diving all over the court in defence is something astonishing because he is doing this himself “.
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The Thomas cup was another matter and it announced to the world that India has finally arrived on the world stage and is ready to take on the badminton powers any time, anywhere.
The Thomas cup campaign of 2022, threw into the ring for India a couple of more shuttlers who are on the way to be called as living legends of Indian badminton. In Skipper of the Indian squad, we had in Kidambi Srikanth, a former world number 1, an astute and a great fighter, who won a match for India whenever he was called to take the responsibility, his calm visage and a great fighting spirit helped in mentoring and guiding teammates to great heights.
However the other heroes who emerged out of this heroic Thomas cup display by India was HS Prannoy who played the third singles. This unsung hero of Indian badminton also, like Lakshya, accounted for every top shuttler who came to challenge him.
And this included his win over Axelson at the year ending finale in three games 14-21, 21-17, 21-18. He also accounted for his long-time nemesis Kento Momota of Japan beating him after 6 consecutive defeats. But Indian fans and Indian badminton will always be thankful for his fantastic win over Rasmus Gemke in the India vs Denmark semifinals tie of the Thomas cup. His memorable victory over the Dane after suffering from an ankle twist is something that will go in international badminton folklore.
His control over the shuttle and a will to give India an astounding win over Denmark gave India the win in the decider. A highly intelligent use of the court and perfect placements of the bird ensured that Gemke was always deceived and ran into a rash of errors. Both Lakshya and Prannoy have been honoured with the Arjuna award by a grateful nation.
Though this piece is only India centric, it will not be amiss to pay tribute to a phenomenal player likes of whom are rarely seen. And that shuttler is none other than the tall, gangling Axelson whose domination of the singles event has to be saluted. The world tour finale is the 8th title for this great Dane in the year, and incidentally his sixth win
Of this title, which he has seemingly made his personal property. He has 51 victories and only 3 losses in 2022 and is the current world and Olympic champion and has won 26 bwf tour titles till date.
Hats off to this great player.
Year of the Doubles
The world 7 ranked Chirag Shetty/Satwiksairaj Rankireddy - the dynamic pair who defeated almost all the top pairs in the world, snatched the gold at Thomas cup and also carved out the field in CWG open doubles, were another huge success story for India. The only pair they have not been able to defeat is the Malaysian pair of Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik.
Both Satwiksairaj and Chirag are young, improving every day, and should do yeoman service to Indian badminton for many years. Says their Danish coach Boe Mathias, who has done a great job as national doubles coach, “these two are pride of the nation. They have done really well. They are hardworking and disciplined. I have no hesitation in saying that India in very near future will be a doubles power as well. Dhruv Kapila and MR Arjun are almost there. Many others like Krishna Prasad, Vishnuwardhan are waiting to show their talent."
So like in singles, with many youngsters wanting to excel in doubles, we may have problem of plenty. All because Chirag and Satwiksairaj have made a remarkable career in doubles.
Nothing much to write about in ladies singles, though PV Sindhu won the CWG gold, she wàs beset by injuries most of latter part of the year. And Saina Nehwal played many tournaments but lost in first or second round at most.
In mixed doubles, ishant Bhatnagar and Tanisha Crasto have done well enough to be ranked 24, but have a long way to go.
This brings us to women doubles. And here magic of sorts was woven by Gayatri Gopichand and Treesha Jolly. In the All England this year they had stunned world no 2 pair from Korea and reached semifinals. The two youngsters were consistent right through the year, and I am sure they will be heard of a lot of in near future. Once they built up more physical strength they will take space left by Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnapa.
Badminton’s future in India seems to be assured by two teenagers who made a mark in junior events.
Sankar Muthusewamy reached the finals of junior world championship while Unnati Hooda, all of 14, reached the finals of the Asian under-17 championships, thereby creating history of sorts as she is the first Indian shuttler to do so.
Unnati may well be the answer to, Who after Saina and Sindhu?
So 2022 saw our players scaling huge heights and in bargain ensuring that India had its best ever year in international badminton. And if players like Unnati and Sankar keep on sprouting in the badminton landscape, our future too is safe.
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