CWG win continues Lakshya's golden streak but bigger battles lie ahead

Lakshya Sen poses with his gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

In the last eight months, Lakshya Sen has won a bronze at the World Championships, won the Thomas Cup (the team World Championship in badminton), a second-place finish at the All England (one of the most prestigious badminton events), as well as the India Open Super 500 (the biggest event in India). All firsts for the 20-year-old.

On Monday, he won the men's singles gold at the Commonwealth Games after a resilient show against one of the most in-form players in Birmingham, Malaysia's Ng Tze Yong. He came from behind to beat Ng 19-21, 21-9, 21-16 in an intensely-fought final.

A CWG gold medal doesn't quite hold the same import as a Worlds championship medal, in both singles and team. In the grand scheme of things, the second and third place finishes on the Badminton World Tour shows more about a young and coming player than a CWG medal.

But winning gold at a multi-sport event for India, on debut to boot, is special in its own way. It puts a national spotlight on an athlete in a way that the BWF Tour and Thomas Cup won't. Only four Indian men have won a CWG gold - Prakash Padukone (1978), Syed Modi (1982), Parupalli Kashyap (2014) and now him.

As reduced as the Commonwealth field is, Malaysia (and a certain Lee Chong Wei) has almost always dominated the category. Even without the legend and the world No 5 Lee Zii Jia, it was not an easy medal in terms of sporting or other significance.

He was up against a very good player, who had already beaten the reigning World Championship gold and silver medallist - Loh Kean Yew and Kidambi Srikanth (twice) - en route the final. Sen himself had not lost a single match throughout the mixed team and singles campaign, beating Loh Kean Yew in the semis of the team event.

However, he was not picked for the final, the Indian team management going with the Kidambi Srikanth, the senior of the two. Srikanth lost to Ng and it proved decisive in that tie. A week later, Ng beat the former world No 1 again to set up the gold medal match with Sen. And to think he wasn't even the country's first choice, replacing Lee Jii Zia after the latter pulled out to focus on the World Championships.

The final between the two young in-form players was energetic and gruelling in equal measure. The Malaysian looked set as he took the early advantage despite Sen being in the game till 19 points. But that's when Sen levelled up one of his strongest attributes - a defence so swift that it's as good as attack.

Ng's own intensity dipped in the second game as the scoreline suggests but it was another tight battle in the decider, once again won by Sen's tenacity and refusal to not let the shuttle fall down. It was a geometric battle for points, all angles and lines to be carved out on court.

"I had to dig deep today," he said after the match. "I was a bit tense at the start, found my rhythm in the second and key my nerves in the last game."

On being asked what changed, he said, "I kept a good length at the other end, in the second game I got the lead and was in control and in the third game I kept the lead."

Not as simple as it sounds, but just maintaining the control and composure got him gold. From recovering an injury in the lead-up to the Games and indifferent form in the last he tournaments, he turned it around right on time.

This was Sen's first Commonwealth Games, but occasion has never really overawed him - he was on the podium in his first World Championship, All England Championship and Thomas Cup in the last year. He is a former junior world No 1 and has a silver at the Youth Olympics, and his transition to seniors has been only confident. The kind of players he has beat this year is proof: Olympic champion and world No 1 Viktor Axelsen, world champion Loh Kean Yew, top-five players Anders Antonsen, Anthony Ginting and Lee Zii Jia.

But he knows he can't celebrate just yet. Because winning the first medal has not been the issue for him. Next up though is his second World Championship, starting just two weeks after the Commonwealth Games. He has a bronze to defend, a reputation to maintain, as well as the winning momentum to take along. If he can carry on the determination with which he won CWG gold, his second world championship can be as memorable as his first.