Lakshya Sen continued his fine form to beat Malaysia’s Lee Zi Jia 21-13, 12-21, 21-19 in the semi-finals of the All England Championship on Saturday.
The 20-year-old is just one step away from emulating the exploits of his mentor Prakash Padukone and head coach Pullela Gopichand. Prakash, at whose academy Lakshya learned the nuances of the game and still trains, won it in 1980, while Gopi won it in 2001.
“I am very happy to reach the final. But I know it is not over yet,” Lakshya said after reaching the final.
On a day when Indian fans outnumbered Malaysians in Birmingham, Lakshya returned 12-16 to pack Holder, who at one point looked on course for his title defense.
Playing from the tough side of the court, Lakshya found his limit while Lee celebrated the 16th point with a smash of 397 kph.
Lakshya collected the next three points – one with a rally and the next two over the net. Lakshya then leveled 18-18 with a brutal crosscourt smash with Lee.
Under pressure, Lee tried to tilt the scales, but Lakshya’s netplay at this crucial juncture was so good that it would have made his mentor Prakash proud.
At 20–19, the goal led Lee to commit an unforced error and as the Malaysian widened the shuttle, Lakshya happily threw his racket and celebrated by pumping his fist.
The umpire cautioned him against the customary exchange with the opponent. But the youngster from Almora was in no mood to listen as Indian fans at the stadium and across the globe joined him in celebrating his unprecedented feat.
Lee said he lost the plot on the net. “The last few points were about netplay. He got me out in the nets. I know he plays well but today he was very good.”
The first game was equally good, which Lakshya won without breaking a sweat. But once he moved to the other side of the court, he lost momentum and Lee took over. At one point, Lee was led 16-6 but was in no mood to surrender the target. Although he lost, he managed to win seven more points.
The decider was a close contest between the two until 10-11 before Lee went on to lead 16-12. At this stage, Lakshya found a way back and sealed a nerve-wracking contest of one hour, 16 minutes, which also included a 67-shot rally.
Lakshya will face world number one Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, who defeated Chou Tien Chen of Chinese Taipei 21-13, 21-15 on Sunday.
The goal is still fresh from his win over Axelsen in the semi-finals of the German Open last Saturday.