Lakshya Sen wins gold on Commonwealth Games debut

A cross-court winner after an hour of battle, a racquet and shirt thrown into the crowd, a gold medal won. Lakshya Sen made it a singles gold medal sweep for India at the 2022 Commonwealth Games with a battling win over Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong 19-21, 21-9, 21-16 in the final on Monday.

After PV Sindhu won the women’s singles, Sen (20) came from a game down to win the men’s singles gold medal match in his first CWG.

Ng, the world No 42, had already stunned reigning world champion Yew Kean Loh of Singapore in the quarterfinal and then former world No 1 Kidambi Srikanth in the semis. But today he came up short against Sen’s wall of defense.

The high-quality final between two youngsters in their first CWG was characterized by long, all-court rallies, all about attacking, angled shots and finding the minute margins on the chalk. The space of court was so well defended, points were decided on the sidelines – by literally millimeters on the white line. Both players’ defense was rock-solid but it was Sen who edged ahead on account of his tenacity.

Ng played a sizzling cross-court winner to start the final but Sen leveled it for 2-2. An angled jump smash got him the 4-2 lead “but Sen started carving out spaces and made it a 5-2. Ng tested Sen’s defense in long rallies and then got a slender lead at 9-7 with two kiss-the-line winners before Sen’s variation got him a winner and things were back on level when Ng’s jump smash landed well out.

But it was the Malaysian who went into the mid-game interval with a two-point lead after an unsuccessful challenge from Sen. On their return, in a telling moment, Sen played out and won a rally with broken strings, placing a deft winner beyond Ng. The Malaysian lead remained about 2 points as Sen tried to catch up. But his aggression led to overhits, and the errors proved to be costly in the first game.

The Malaysian crowd, lively and vocal throughout the badminton tournament, was at it again. NG kept his lead and Sen stayed in the chase, never more than three points behind. The Indian then went on to level the game at 18-18 with a crafty couple of points and took the lead with a superb winner from a full-horizontal dive to his right. But he missed a winner after another dive to his right and Ng brought up his first game point with a crushing cross-court smash.

Sen showed the full extent of his defensive skillset on the next point but it was a momentary lapse in judgment – he left a long toss that landed just in – that clinched the first game in the Malaysian’s favour.

The second game started with the same speedy, zinging shots flying off their racquets – the ratio between attacking winner and error being a fine line.

Sen leveled at 6-6 when Ng’s broken strings netted a smash but the Malaysian built back his two-point lead with another powerful, speedy smash. Sen took the lead with three straight errors from the Malaysian who seemed to be dropping his intensity.

Ng got his mojo right back, pushing Sen side to side and scoring in the gap created in a classic one-two punch but that was his last blast of power and this time the Indian took the lead into the mid-game interval.

Sen pressed the advantage after the dip in energy from his opponent and built his lead from 6-8 down to 18-9 with quick points: sizzling winners and forced errors. He brought up game points with a loopy toss and converted it with ease.

The Malaysian looked gassed, probably preparing for the decider.

In the decider, Ng grabbed the first two points but the see-saw momentum shifts continued throughout. Sen built a three-point lead with a defense as good as attack, making Ng commit errors and maintaining his lead.

The physicality of the contest was defined by the rally for 9-6: Ng finally got a point after hitting the shuttle right back at Sen’s body after the two had pushed each other to all corners of the court.

Sen got the crucial 11-7 lead heading into the break in the decider – the sheer force of his defensive returns forcing Ng to mishit. Sen’s lead swelled to 15-10 and now it was Ng playing catch-up. The match started getting scrappy towards the business end, a couple of smashes into the net pegging Sen back and a bunch of points coming from errors.

The duo then played a brutal, physical point for 18-14 that was so intense, Ng needed a break to treat the scrapes on his knee. A Sen jump-smash put him two points away, a wide shot and Ng smash made things nervous but an Nn error brought up gold medal point

A cross-court winner after wrong-footing his opponent with his sturdy defense sealed the match and the gold medal. Cue the celebrations.

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