As India turns 70, we celebrate Eight For Eighty - the eight sportspersons who we feel will carry the torch for the next decade.
The story so far
Having turned 16 just a day after India's 70th Independence Day, Lakshya Sen is already turning heads in the badminton circuit and is being proclaimed by many to be the next big Indian men's singles player. In February, Sen become only the third Indian male player to rise to the top spot in the world junior rankings after Aditya Joshi in 2014 and Siril Verma in 2016.
Having started training at Bangalore's Prakash Padukone academy when he was just 10 years old, Sen's rise through the ranks has been rapid and consistent. In 2014, he clinched the Wimbledon Under-19 tournament, the Swiss Open Junior tournament as well as the Aros Junior Under-15 cup in Denmark. He grabbed more titles at home in the following year and was crowned the junior national champion in 2016.
Results have been encouraging this year too. A bronze medal at the Junior Asian Championships joins an All India Senior Ranking tournament win and a runners-up finish at the Senior Nationals. The last result made him the youngest finalist in that event. That run, in what was his debut at the senior level, was highlighted by a tremendous upset in the pre-quarterfinals when he took apart top seed HS Prannoy in three games.
A recent fourth-round exit in the Junior Asian Championships is only being seen as a temporary blip on his career graph. Indeed, there has been no shortage of praise for the youngster from Almora. Former All England Champion Prakash Padukone says he see shades of himself in Sen. Former national champion Sayali Gokhale, who has coached Sen in Bangalore, marvels at his temperament. "What sets him apart is being a fast learner and also maturity beyond his years. Even in tricky match situations, Lakshya is calm and can think on his feet," she told ESPN earlier this year. But he still has to prove he can go toe to toe in a field that is getting steadily more crowded.
"In two years' time I see him not just standing shoulder to shoulder with the top senior players, but also beating them. There are no loopholes in his game and if he can break into the top 50 within the next couple of years, I think it would put him way ahead of his competition."
--Sanjay Sharma, former national champion and coach