Birmingham (UK) : Attacking from the very first point, the world No. 1 and the reigning Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark completely outplayed unseeded 20-year-old Lakshya Sen of India to regain the prestigious Yonex All-England Badminton crown – which he won in 2020 – in straight games 21-10, 21-15.
Taller and bigger built, the 28-year-old Dane raced to a 6-0 lead in the first game, winning three of them with powerful smashes. Sen, wearing a mainly yellow tee-shirt and multi-coloured shorts, fought back with two smashes of his own, but with errors, forced and unforced, he surrendered the game quite tamely.
Although No. 11 in the world and No. 1 on the 2022 Tour, Sen’s net-play, which is his strength, was neutralised by Axelsen lobbing rather than taking him on in such a duel. The Indian’s delicate dribbles, which inconvenienced opponents in earlier rounds, were missing.
Despite serving first, in the second game, too, Sen trailed, this time 0-3, before he got on the board. But he hung in, winning an energy-sapping 70-shot rally narrow the score to 11-17.
The experienced Axelsen, world No. 1 for 67 weeks in a row and playing his fourth consecutive All-England, appeared to be tiring towards the end of the second game. But he had enough in the tank to finish it off quite comprehensively.
Sen demonstrated speed and a solid defence, but his lofted shots were frequently punished with thundering smashes. Leading 10-5 in the second game, Axelsen had to smash thrice to win the win.
Sen beat Axelsen in the semi-finals of the German Open last week in three games – 21-13, 12-21, 22-20. But on this occasion, he was no match for an opponent who maintained an offensive from start to finish – going for the sidelines with unerring accuracy. His repertoire of soft and hard slices, deceptively feathered and occasionally piercing smashes were not in effective display.
A few voiced in the indoor arena in this Britain’s second biggest city, encouraged Sen with ‘Come on India’. But they were drowned by Axelsen’s supporters, among whom were his fiancee and infant daughter.
Prakash Padukone in 1980 and Pullela Gopichand in 2001 are the only two Indians to have won the All-England title. A pupil of Padukone, Sen’s touch play showed slight glimpses of the former. He certainly has the makings of a future world champion.