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Lakshya Sen capped off his stellar July with a battling three-game loss to fifth seed Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, going down 15-21 21-13 16-21 in the semifinal of the 2023 Japan Open. It was Lakshya’s third consecutive semifinal appearance in as many tournaments, which began with his Canada Open victory, heralding a much-awaited return to form ahead of a crucial few months.
Christie had won the last meeting between the pair in the quarterfinal of the 2023 Indonesia Masters, which was a three-game affair as well, although Lakshya had won their first meeting in the 2020 Badminton Asia Team Championships in straight games – with a 1-1 head-to-head record going into this clash.
Despite Christie exhibiting his range of strokes right from the off, Lakshya’s defence allowed him to start the first game with a 3-1 lead – but a couple of superb smashes from the fifth-seeded Indonesian saw the tie level at 4-4 fairly quickly. There were errors from both sets of players as they traded points thereafter, but a 385 kmph smashed winner from Lakshya saw him go into the interval with a 11-9 lead.
Christie wasted no time in clawing back the gap and taking a 16-12 lead, with some clever mid-court play forcing Lakshya into tough positions where a return wasn’t forthcoming – coupled with the Indian going wide on occasion. A 386 kmph cross-court smash from Christie saw Lakshya dive in vain, but trail 13-18, which became 13-19 after an unsuccessful challenge. A flurry of smashes into Lakshya’s body saw Christie earn five game points, the first of which he converted after twisting Lakshya into knots, taking the first game 21-15 in 20 minutes.
After a lengthy conversation with the coach, Lakshya started the second game with plenty of aggression, a down-the-line smash early in the rally giving him a 3-1 lead once more – which became 8-4 with a well-judged smash ending a series of fast, aggressive rallies and Christie making a couple of errors as well. Lakshya was forcing the issue with clever angles, and his sixth straight point came via another unreturnable smash down the line, as he went 11-4 ahead into the break.
Three unforced errors from Lakshya saw him respond with a quick break – which served him well as a couple of cross-court smashes saw him stem the tide, leading 13-7. A stunning rally followed, where Lakshya unleashed a barrage of smashes only for Christie to return them – ending with a searing smash across the length of the court, as the Indian made it 16-11 and forced Christie into a break. The second game was pretty much a foregone conclusion thereafter, with Lakshya taking it 21-13 in 22 minutes.
It was Christie who took a 3-1 lead this time around, despite Lakshya forcing some long rallies with impressive defence, which was crucial in him clawing it back to 3-3. It was neck-and-neck between the pair, until Lakshya went wide after a 34-shot rally to trail 6-8. Christie amped up the aggression however, and a quick serve-smash point saw him take a 11-7 lead at the change of ends.
Lakshya was back in his favoured side of the court in the last part of the decider, but Christie hung on with some fortune as his Indian opponent committed some errors, allowing the Indonesian to lead 17-12. Christie had his share of errors, but came up trumps in the crucial moment, including a brilliant smashed winner after a long rally that caught the line and gave him a 19-15 lead. Luck deserted Lakshya again as a back court floater landed narrowly out handing Christie five match points, the second of which he converted when a despairing, diving return from Lakshya found the net, giving the Indonesian a 21-15 13-21 21-16 win in 68 minutes.