All England 2023: ‘Boss-man’ Lakshya Sen displays incredible reflex defence to win opening round

“He played like a Boss after a long time and I’m happy for him” longtime coach Vimal Kumar would say of his ward Lakshya Sen after a stunning start to the All England on Tuesday. The stride and stomp of a ‘Boss-man’.

There is that burst of explosion with which Lakshya Sen strides towards the net – though it’s a simple, fleet-footed hop if you follow his shoe soles. And then comes the thwacking hammer of a kill shot, a smash meant not to be returned, the shuttle demanding to be laid to rest after a proper smother. It’s Sen’s defining shot. Yet it’s not what they call the confidence stroke; what reassures players they are in good touch.

As he went about decimating Chou Tien Chen’s compact game 21-18, 21-19 in the opening round of the All England, Sen’s confidence shots were not necessarily the winners. It was his reflex defense, which when it starts working, crumbles an opponent’s resolve to keep fighting. It broke Chou and unmade his challenge. The idea was to keep the rallies short and deny Chou his comfort zone of prolonged exchanges, and Sen went about constructing those short, snappy flat exchanges.

Haring about the length, breadth and diagonal of the court, Sen started from where he had left off last year against Lee Zii Jia. The Utilita Arena of the All England has hosted, among other events, Gymnastics World Cups, and Sen would’ve done a contortionist proud, with his reflex returns that kept him in rallies till he found the opportune moment to kill the shuttle.

Setting a scorching pace, and relentless in his retrieving, Sen didn’t allow Chou a single occasion to settle into his usually dependable attack. Or to believe that he was in any control of matters. It’s how Sen reached 11-8 and took the opener 21-18, though the scything smashes were a regular feature.


The reflex return demands that he anticipates where the shuttle is headed – which he aces. But it wasn’t just about the reach, or chasing down shuttles on the lines, or leaving it with good judgment, as the case may be. It was the defense against body smashes – for Chou smacks them hard and angular- where Sen was incredibly effective. Shuttles millimetres from his body flank would be sent back after bobbing and weaving the torso, the elbow at unreal angles, and making Matrix-like bullet-evading moves while the racquet head would ensure the shuttle stayed in play.

A 47-shot rally looked spectacular in its back-and-forth. But it was on either side of that tug of war that Sen’s reflex defense set it up for his charging attack to explode. He looked tired and teased Chou twice – with 8 off 10 points scored in the first, and a five-point flurry – feinting for him some hope at crucial junctures. But even when tired, and more when he was panting for breath and looking properly knackered, the commitment in the body smash defense would retain its same intensity as ever.


“We had no doubt about his endurance. Some of his reflex returns are insane,” coach Anup Sridhar reckoned. “Anticipation is part of his talent. He is a very good judge of what is going on in a rally. We told him to keep the racquet out and prepared. And he really took the chances that came his way to kill the rally early.”

And as if to taunt and tease further, there was the forehand flick finish – like a left swipe on a cell phone, a reverse Nike tick – which came after a lot of parrying of body shots, Sen would send across to end Chou’s miserable woes.

A signature down-the-line hop smash would end an intense rally at 19-17. And such was Chou’s disbelief that he would commit a service error, drawing gasps of ‘Oh my goodness me, would you believe it’ from commentator Gill Clark, as it got to 20-18. There was one smash left in Chou to make it 20-19, but nothing more. As if in payback, Sen would score the last winner with a body smash on Chou Tien Chen and follow it up with a fist pump.

“First game’s first 10 points more or less decided the match,” Vimal Kumar would say. “Lakshya played very cleverly and never allowed Chou Tien to get into long rallies. Lakshya quickly took out points. He even attacked very well especially his forehand down the line smashes were very good.
Overall Lakshya should be happy with the way he played today,” he added.

Coach Anup Sridhar reckoned the win was a boulder off Sen’s back after he trailed 0-2 in head to heads. “Large part of this win was mental and now he’s gotten over the hump. It could’ve been even easier from 15-9 in the first, 17-13 in the second, but when you’ve lost earlier that always plays on the mind. But we had prepared well for this week,” he said. Next up is Anders Antonsen.

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