By: Sanjay Sharma
Last Updated: August 03, 2022, 12:16 IST
India's PV Sindhu (PTI Photo)
Lakshya Sen will have to buy that Uttrakhand ‘mithai’ or bal mithai as it is known for prime minister Narendra Modi when he is invited for the felicitations thrown at the PM house, for the medal winners of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022.
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For the victorious Thomas cup squad reception at the PM house last month, the Prime Minister was delighted when the Indian shuttling sensation Lakshya had presented the ‘mithai’ which the PM had requested, when he phoned up the squad to congratulate them on that stupendous demolition and decimation of Malaysia, Denmark and the mighty Indonesian 3-0 in the finals.
Lakshya had a great chance of winning two gold medals at the Games which are being held at Birmingham – in mixed team and individual events. However, last night’s result meant he has to be satisfied with a silver medal in the team competition. India lost to Malaysia in the final. The individual events starts August 3 and with CWG level not being of very high standards, Lakshya, seeded 2, will have a field day at the Games. There is no real opposition to him till the finals where he should meet the winner of the match between Kidambi Srikanth, the 2021 runners-up of world championships, and the winner of the current holder of world championship, Loh Kean Yew from Singapore.
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So, Lakshya will stroll through the field without even breaking a sweat, at least till the semifinals where he may potentially meet Brian Yang of Canada and that match should be a nice warm up for the Indian ace. Surprisingly I can see only one Malaysian entry in the men’s singles draw that of NG Tze Yang. Of course Lee Zhi Jia the all England champion in 2021 had withdrawn from CWG as he wants to play the World Championship which come within two weeks of the CWG. But, with only one entry in the singles draw it also means that the once mighty country, Malaysia is down in the doldrums as far as top level singles badminton talent is concerned.
Now that we have established that Lakshya will most likely meet either Shrikant or Loh in the finals, let us see how this triangular battle may unfold. So, notwithstanding the results of team championships here are my views as far as the individual events are concerned.
Against the world champion Loh, Lakshya has a 3-2 head-to-head advantage. Last time the two clashed was in the finals of the India Open where the Indian prevailed 24-22, 21-17. Lakshya won at the Chinese Masters defeating Loh 21-13, 21-12 and at the French Open 2021 he won 21-17, 21-14.
Loh got the better of Lakshya at the Hylo Open, Germany last year with a score-line of 21-17, 21-14 and at the Dutch open last year 21-16, 21-12.
Loh is probably the fastest moving player currently on the circuit. His court speed is something to be seen in to be believed. He is relentless in attack and can smash from any angle and then in four leaps he is at the net in blink of an eye. But, he has no deception and plays a simple game, depending mainly in on his speed.
Lakshya, on the other hand, is electrifying in defense, leaping and diving as if there is no tomorrow. He also smashes hard and has great variations on his attacking strokes. He has that slow looping sharp drops, the faster drop delivered with a snap of his wrist, the deep half-smash again played with snap of a wrist and then of course the full bloodied hard smash. His overhead crosscourt half smash is breathtaking but where Lakshya is magical and difficult to comprehend is at the net where his dribbles and counter dribbles are hypnotising to say the least.
This position is a two-fold advantage to him. One is that he denies an opening to the opponent and second he forces the opponent to lift to him. He is so sure of his sharpness of the net strokes that he lurks around for a fast tap shot. All things considered I feel he has a 60-40 percent chance to win against Loh if they clash in the CWG finals
Against Srikanth, Lakshya has a player who is almost as good on the net. Plus when he is in position he is just poetry in motion with that easy signature leap from where he unleashes his thunderbolts, the fastest of which is recorded at a mind-boggling 402 kmph. The last time the two clashed was in a semifinals of the 2021 World Championships in Spain where Srikanth won by the skin of his teeth in a most memorable clash. The 30-year-old did not get much time to get fit for the CWG as he was busy playing the Asian circuit. And there was dampener too for him at the Singapore open where he lost in early rounds to unknown and unheralded 77 world ranked Mithun Manjunath. He also lost in singles encounter in the mixed team finals on Tuesday.
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Lakshya, on the other hand, did not participate in the circuit and took time to work on his fitness. Plus he has youthful energy in comparison as he is only 20 years old. And both know each other’s game thoroughly. And one thing in his favour is that Srikanth does not like to be pushed into defence as he is an attacker to the core. I feel that young Lakshya has an edge and it would be 55:45 in favour of the Almora wonder.
Shrikant and Loh would be 50”50 as both have their strong points. And Srikanth is definitely having more variations and deception but to counter the leg and court speed of Loh, he has to play a cunning game and come to the net first and dominate that area. And he would love to take revenge for that loss in the world championship finals.
Head to head it is 1-1 but Srikanth beat him four years ago in CWG team championships in 2018. And what a day it would be if two Indian stars play the finals for the gold.
PV Sindhu All the Way to Gold
Coming to ladies singles it will be Sindhu all the way. The only competition can come from world 13 ranked Li Michele of Canada or the 18th ranked Kirsty Gilmour if Scotland. And as legendary Prakash Padukone put it,” Sindhu is a certainty for gold”. And no one in his right mind will argue with the man. It would be nice to see young Aakarshi Kashyap reaching, at least the semis.
Ladies doubles will be dicey for the Indian squad. Gayatri Gopichand and Tressa Jolly lost the doubles against the Australian pair of Chen U Wendy/Gronya Somerville 13-21, 19-21 and to Malaysian top-seed in the mixed team final. The world 11 rankers from Malaysia had defeated our pair easily in the Malaysian masters super 500 championship. The Indians can fight for the bronze.
The second seeds in men’s doubles Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty shoulder have no problem in their journey to the finals against world 6 Ranked Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi. Here they have to put their best, concentrated performance. In last CWG the dynamic Indian duo had to satisfy themselves with the Silver medal. They must change the colour of that metal this time. Hey lost to the Tokyo bronze medal Malaysian pair in the missed team final.
In the mixed doubles, our pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and Sumeet Reddy may be ranked 97 in the world, but they both are highly experienced and can sneak in a medal. They have world ranked 6 from England and world ranked 9 from Malaysia on their journey to semifinals. They have the fighting spirit, experience and the chutzpah to overcome these above pairs. They have to just click at the right time.
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By: Sanjay Sharma