Lakshya Sen levels up in Denmark amid new coach and household chores

A maiden BWF World Tour title at the Dutch Open Super 100 saw Lakshya jump 20 spots for a fresh ranking of No.52 in the world. Vimal Kumar

Almost four decades ago, life-size cutouts of a much-loved foreigner who bewitched badminton fans with his deceptive game at the local club matches, sprung up in the Hvidovre suburbs of Copenhagen.

Today, at a three-hour train ride away from the consummate Danish capital city, four students of the former star, Prakash Padukone, grind away in the town of Aarhus, known as much for its cultural stripes as its craft beer. Living together in a dorm, turning out for the local Danish club, cooking, doing their own dishes and laundry, they are taking in the lessons that only everyday life in a faraway land can offer.

One of them, 18-year-old Lakshya Sen, just had a breakthrough weekend. A maiden BWF World Tour title at the Dutch Open Super 100 saw him jump 20 spots for a fresh ranking of No.52 in the world. Apart from the work chiseled in by coaches Padukone and Vimal Kumar back in Bengaluru, former world No. 1 and Danish legend Morten Frost, too, has crucially shaped and shepherded the Indian teen's game.

Frost was in attendance courtside during last week's Dutch Open as well as the Belgian International Challenge title in September. Padukone's former fiendish on-court rival and thick buddy off it, Frost entered into a partnership with the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) earlier this year to help groom Indian juniors. Four PPBA trainees -- Rahul Bharadwaj, Kiran George, Mithun Manjunath and Lakshya, all of them supported by Olympic Gold Quest -- have since September this year been lodged in Aarhus with Frost, who stays a kilometre away from the boys.

"It's nice to see this shift in Lakshya's approach," Frost tells ESPN. "He is now showing a lot better balance between when to attack and when to hold back. Patience, really, and cutting down on his unforced errors. It's what's gotten him these rewards in results and rankings. Between ages 17-21 players are in a transitional phase. Lakshya clearly is top-10 material, and from there anything can happen. I used to say the same about my former student Peter (Gade). He went on to become world No.1."

The story goes that badminton was ferried to the Nordic country by a native who returned from a visit to England in the 1920s with four rackets. Denmark's thriving badminton club culture turned it into the only European country to win an Olympic medal, until Carolina Marin put Spain on the badminton map at the Rio Games.

Few weeks ago at a Danish league encounter, Lakshya, turning out for the Aarhus club, beat former world No. 2 Jan O Jorgensen in two straight games, in what Frost calls a "delightful" match. Lakshya is thankful for this life of playing top-quality league matches with some of the best players every other week.

"The biggest difference is the level of sparring," Lakshya says. "We train with players of such varied styles and attacks. Every day we learn so much more."

Frost's plan for Lakshya has been one of carefully constructing rallies instead of riding on the one-off winners. He has also set a top-50 year-end ranking goal.

The Uttarakhand-born teenager hasn't disappointed. With four tournaments - Saarlorlux Open Super 100, Irish Open, Scottish Open and Syed Modi Super 300 - left on his calendar before he can call it a year, Frost punts Lakshya exceeding his goal by roughly ten spots.

"The whole idea is to get players to step out of their comfort zone," Frost says. "When you're living in a foreign country, you are forced to take responsibility for yourself. They learn to plan and divide their time when they have to do all the less-enjoyable mundane everyday chores like grocery shopping or cooking.

"The self-discipline and life skills help in decision making when they're on the court. It's a wake-up call really. I'm away for commentary for two weeks now, so they're somewhat on their own. Of course there are three other coaches who look into their training when I'm not around and they slowly learn to not rely on anyone. On some days they flounder, on others they succeed. It's fun to watch."

Vimal vouches for the lessons from living abroad. A former top 20 player, he moved to England in 1980, living with his coach Tom John on a shoestring budget. He took up a job as a waiter at an Italian restaurant close to the Wimbledon club and would jostle with fellow staff over serving tennis greats John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova.

"More than anything else, we wanted the handsome tips," Vimal says. "I'd return from tournaments to Surrey on Saturday and play league matches on Sunday that would last from 2 PM to 10 PM.

"In 1988, we were to play Lancashire in the final and I had just finished my tournament in France and was sick and undecided on traveling to London. I was Surrey's No.1 singles player so they sent me the air ticket and insisted I come over. I was lucky that after I played the first shot my opponent fell and twisted his ankle. Those years I spent playing club matches taught me so much, including culinary skills. Both Prakash and myself felt these kids needed this exposure to be both evolved players and tougher individuals."

For starters, Lakshya, who won silver at the Youth Olympics and bronze at the World Junior Championships, says he has learnt to crack an egg in a pan as he and his roommates occasionally rustle up an egg fried rice. On a lazy day, they eat out.

"Having someone like Frost to coach us is a huge bonus," Lakshya says. "These past two months I've become more patient in my game. I don't rush into mistakes, my concentration lapses when I'm leading are less frequent and from quarters and semifinals in the past, I now have a BWF title.

"It can sometimes get boring though because there's nothing much to do around here beyond training."

Lakshya is back in Aarhus after his Dutch Open win last weekend. Wild celebrations await? Lakshya laughs off the suggestion. He'd be more than grateful to settle for a bail-out on doing the dishes this week.