Lakshya Sen has become the third Indian male player to rise to the top spot in the junior rankings after Aditya Joshi in 2014 and Siril Verma last year. Lakshya has leapfrogged his nearest rival Chia Hao Lee of Taipei in the latest rankings revealed earlier on Thursday on the official website of the Badminton World Federation.
Born in the Almora district of Uttarakhand in September 2001, Lakshya came to the Prakash Padukone academy in Bangalore at the age of 10. The legendary Padukone immediately spotted a spark and Lakshya has since been under his wing. Padukone has been giving the 15-year-old personalised attention, especially over the last couple of years, by preparing his day-to-day schedule and monitoring his progress closely. Lakshya comes from a badminton family. His father is a coach with the Sports Authority of India and his brother Chirag, older by a couple of years, is also among the top juniors in the country and had in fact reached the second spot in the world rankings earlier.
"We were expecting this, perhaps it has come a little bit sooner than expected," Padukone told ESPN. "Lakshya is a naturally gifted player and is quick to grasp the finer points of the game. I felt he had some very special qualities from the very beginning. The idea now is to help him keep developing tactically, which I feel is very important in the modern game where everyone tends to play a similar style as opposed to the '80s and '90s. I see my job as the one posing the questions, making him come up with the answers and I find he is faster at that than other players."
Lakshya has been progressing impressively over the last few years. In 2014, he clinched the Wimbledon Under-19 tournament, the Swiss Open Junior tournament as well as the Aros Junior Under-15 cup in Denmark. He grabbed more titles at home in the following year and is the reigning Junior National champion.
Viren Rasquinha, CEO of Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), who have been supporting Lakshya since he was 11, says they have been encouraged to observe that Lakshya has "not stopped progressing" over this time and believes his rise is "not unexpected" given his talent. Lakshya now has access to a personal trainer and a physio, provided by OGQ, and also specialists for diet and nutrition.
"We have huge plans for him," says Rasquinha. "He is a very quiet boy with his feet firmly on the ground. He has all the strokes, the deception and great fitness levels to go very far. The key is ensure a smooth transition from the junior to the senior ranks."
When asked if he saw shades of a young himself in Lakshaya, Padukone smiled and said, "Maybe." However, Padukone says the next few years will be critical in his development and the focus will be in ensuring Lakshya doesn't become obsessed with rankings.
A calendar has been drawn up till the end of the ongoing year under Padukone's supervision that ensures Lakshya will return to three weeks of training and recuperation after participating in a few tournaments. He will no longer play at the junior level at home but Padukoke wants Lakshya to win the World and Asian junior championships that he reckons will be a bigger feat than rising to the top of the rankings.
"At the senior level too, he will have to choose the right tournaments to play in," Padukone said. "I want him to target wins at a few international challenge level tournaments and do well in a Grand Prix and Grand Prix Gold level tournament if possible. There is no hurry, he can take 2-3 years to rise in the world rankings, he definitely has the potential."
In keeping with Padukone's counsel, Lakshya has already made some appearances in senior competitions. He became the youngest ever player to win an All-India senior ranking tournament last year in Itanagar. He has started the year by participating in a couple of senior events - the Tata International challenge in Mumbai and the Syed Modi international in Lucknow. Lakshya is currently in Patna where he will make his debut at the Senior Nationals.