It’s Tuesday morning at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, and a familiar shriek can be heard ringing at the practice courts. Spain’s Carolina Marin is undergoing an intense training session ahead of her team’s fixture against Delhi Acers scheduled for Thursday.
Sai Praneeth steps up for a duel with the Spaniard. “Stop shaking, stop shaking,” is Hyderabad coach Fernando Rivas’ tip for the Indian, who did seem a bit nervous playing against the Olympic gold medallist.
The training session is being eagerly watched by a group of young trainees who frequent the complex. For a moment, their attention does waver, to check their smartphones, but they quickly switch back to observing Marin doing what she does best – playing some delectable shots.
Demands for selfies and autographs begin way before the practice session ends. Delhi Acers’ coach Madhumita Bisht had to personally nudge Marin to sign a few autographs and oblige selfies-seekers. Roughly three years back, Marin followed the same drill when she took part in the first edition of the Premier Badminton League, called the IBL then, but no one really noticed the slender 20-year-old.
Since then she has won the World Championships twice, an All England title and Olympic gold apart from various other titles.
The career-defining moment, however, remains the much talked about Rio final. An Olympic medal did change the 23-year-old’s life, but not as much as a silver did to Sindhu’s.
While Sindhu’s Olympic silver fetched her a series of cash awards, a fancy car, land and endless endorsements, Marin says she had to be content with a government prize money of €94,000 (`67,77,000 approx), just a fraction of what Sindhu has been promised.
“Things are different back in Spain. No cars, no houses and no land. I just got prize money from the government. But I am satisfied with what I got,” she says.
Marin still trains at the Spanish National Training Centre where she began her journey, but post Olympics she has decided to reside outside the campus. Badminton not being as popular as football and tennis in Spain, Rivas says his ward is “slowly” gaining popularity.
Marin admits she garners more attention in India than she does in her home country.
“I have a lot of fans here. People have started recognising me. People wait for me at the airports, the hotels and ask for selfies and autographs,” she says.
So is she a star back home as well ? “These things cannot happen in Spain. It’s changing but it’s totally different in Spain. I have won gold and she won silver and I was surprised to see how much she has been awarded,” Marin says with a smile. “Sometimes I feel I should have been an Indian.”
Sindhu’s medal came as windfall for her coach P. Gopichand as well. He got his share of “fancy cars and prize money”, in stark contrast to Rivas.
“You want to know what I received ? Nothing !” Rivas declares.
World no 2. Marin is way ahead of her compatriots. Coach Rivas has to use creative methods to find a sparring partner for her ward. The next best women’s singles player is 23-ranked Beatriz Corrales. “My motivation is always to be number one. I don’t care if there are no Europeans in the top ten. My motivation is always to train hard and be the best.”
Hyderabad Hunters’ Marin beat both Sindhu and Saina in her first two matches in the PBL before losing to Mumbai Rockets’ Sung Ji Hyun. “I think everyone wants to defeat me. I also think that the top-10 players beat each other. But yes, now I feel everyone wants to beat me.”
As for her goals, Carolina says: “I want to repeat the performance at All England, World Championship, European championship and win more Super Series titles.”