BWF World Championships: Lakshya Sen learns the art of rallies to enter third round

Lakshya Sen always hated rallies. He was allergic to opponents who thrived on it and matches that lasted on it. He's now learnt to live with it, win points off it and crack his way into the draw, wheeling on a bunch of them. In a display of maturity and character against a higher-ranked Kenta Nishimoto of Japan, the young Indian stayed in the rallies, roughly averaging 40 shots, with sturdy defense and purposeful retrieving, carrying himself through to the third round of the World Championships. He won the match, 22-20, 15-21, 21-18.

In a draw that's missing both the world No 1 and 2 - Viktor Axelsen and Kento Momota, the latter who was originally supposed to be the Indian's third-round opponent, the field has opened up, as have the possibilities. The Christies and Gintings aren't in reckoning either with Indonesia pulling out their players, days before the start. It could turn out to be a god-send for the Indian. Earlier, he had advanced from the first round via walkover against German Max Weisskirchen.

Lakshya next faces Guatemalan Kevin Cordon who made a stunning run as an unseeded player into the Tokyo Olympic semi-finals this year. The 35 year-old leftie, who was named by his father after English football great Kevin Keegen, has a few deceptive tricks in his quiver. His net tumbles can be hard to read and he can dispatch surprise flicks to the back of the court. What he lacks in physical agility and in the gift of lasting rallies, Cordon can compensate for with his experience, anticipation at the net and smart thinking on-court. He also carries a deceptive double stroke where the first racket swing does the job of feigning the direction of the shuttle and is followed by a quick second motion, befuddling opponents. Lakshya will need to push the pace and make him work for points to find a way.

Coach Vimal Kumar will probably re-watch Cordon's Tokyo matches, particularly his win over the Momota-slayer South Korea's Heo Kwanghee, for copious notes to pass on to the Indian. Given Lakshya's current hunger and pace, Cordon wouldn't be expected to be too high a hurdle. Should he win that match, Lakshya will find himself in the quarterfinals facing either Koki Watanabe or Zhao Jun Pen. Both ranked in the 40s, would be favored to make the last eight. But it's been a tournament of great upheavals and grand surprises so far with seeds falling by the bunch, fourth seed Chou Tien Chen being the latest to exit on Tuesday.

Against Nishimoto, in a match that clocked over 80 minutes, Lakshya appeared visibly spent halfway through the second game, breathing heavily and walking back to his changeover spot to allow himself a break. It even caused the chair umpire to inquire if he was alright.

"The shuttles are slow here, you can't put them down easily," Lakshya told BWF after the match, "You have to be patient, build a rally and then go for shots." It's what he did through the greater part of the match - calmly biding his time in rallies, keeping up the dive-bouncing off the floor routine, rushing pace at opportune moments and consistently attacking the Japanese's backhand. Learning to use his explosiveness, pace and powerful smashes with greater diligence has featured in Lakshya's KRAs for a while and now there are signs that he's perhaps figuring a way to distribute pace and energy through a match more efficiently.

At the Prakash Padukone academy in Bangalore, new foreign coach and two-time Olympic doubles silver medalist Yong Sung Yoo who arrived in the city late on Monday was treated to a brave fight by his soon-to-be pupil. Coach Vimal was around for company. "I thought he would tire and give up," a surprised Vimal said, "But the way Lakshya fought quite honestly surprised me. The only thing I told him after his match is to take time to recover and not look at any of the guys lightly. At this World Championships, anything can happen."