The 20-year-old is just one step away from emulating the feat of his mentor Prakash Padukone and chief coach Pullela Gopichand. While Prakash, at whose academy Lakshya learned the nuances of the game and still trains, won it in 1980, Gopi had won it in 2001.
“I’m very happy to be in the final. But I know it is still not over,” Lakshya said after he waltzed into the final.
On a day when the Indian fans were outnumbered by the Malaysians in Birmingham, Lakshya fought back from 12-16 in the decider to pack off the holder, who at one stage looked on course to defending his title.
Playing from the difficult side of the court, Lakshya found his range even as Lee celebrated the 16th point with a 397 kph smash.
His opponent seemed casual as Lakshya collected the next three points — one with a rally and the next two at the net. Lakshya then drew level with Lee at 18-18 with a ferocious crosscourt smash.
Under pressure, Lee tried to tilt the scales but Lakshya’s net play at this critical juncture was so good that it would’ve made his guru Prakash proud.
At 20-19, Lakshya induced Lee to commit an unforced error and as the Malaysian hit the shuttle wide, Lakshya threw up his racquet in delight and celebrated by pumping his fists.
The umpire had cautioned him against the customary exchanges with the opponent. But the youngster from Almora was in no mood to listen as the Indian fans in the stadium and across the world joined him in celebrating his phenomenal feat.
What have we just witnessed ?Lakshya Sen is through to the YONEX All England final after beating Lee Zii Jia.AM… https://t.co/6WI3OOaskC
— ? Yonex All England Badminton Championships ? (@YonexAllEngland) 1647703476000
Lee said that he lost the plot at the net. “The last few points were all about netplay. He outplayed me at the net. I know he plays well but today he was very good,” said Lee.
Just as good was the first game, which Lakshya won without breaking sweat. But once he moved to the other side of the court, he lost momentum and Lee dominated. At one stage, Lee was led 16-6 but Lakshya was in no mood to surrender. Though he lost, he managed to win seven more points.
HE DID IT [email protected]_sen becomes the 5️⃣th ?? shuttler to reach the FINALS at @YonexAllEngland as he gets past th… https://t.co/B2rLerbSvz
— BAI Media (@BAI_Media) 1647703226000
The decider was a close contest between the two till 10-11, before Lee raced ahead to 16-12. At this stage, Lakshya found a way to get back and sealed the nerve-wracking one hour, 16-minute contest that also included a 67-shot rally.
Lakshya will face world No.1 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark who beat Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei 21-13, 21-15, on Sunday.
Lakshya is still fresh from his win over Axelsen in the semifinals of the German Open last Saturday.