MANY CHAMPIONS would have brought stadiums to a soaring crescendo. But Nozomi Okuhara and P V Sindhu, playing the second longest women’s singles badminton match in this points format at 110 minutes, managed the impossible. At a brimming Emirates Arena in Glasgow, they stilled a charged-up crowd into absolute silence, playing one of the greatest matches in the history of the World Championships.
Shot for shot, rally after rally, the pair of 22-year-olds had a magnetic hold over a stadium packed with 5,000 people in the course of a 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 win for the Japanese player in the final. All the drum-beating, the clapping and the slogans slowly fell quiet as the shots took centrestage, with the two athletic fighters banking on their breathtaking levels of precision and stamina.
In the end, the Indian hearts may been broken, and accepting that a slightly better player won, will take some time. But no one at the Glasgow coliseum was left unmoved by what unfolded: two girls defying gravity on a shuttle for as long as their arm and leg muscles, and the willpower in their hearts allowed.
The longest rally had an astonishing 73 shots. The next two best rallies were over 50 shots — all won by Sindhu who retrieved bravely till the last time she fell to a sliced drop. It wasn’t a slugfest of simple tosses — both Nozomi and Sindhu packed in stupendous variety at the net and from the mid-court to draw gasps of wonder more than once.
Incidentally, the longest women’s singles match ever in this format has also featured Okuhara, who beat Chinese Shixian Wang in Malaysia in 2015 in 111 minutes.
“Everyone wants to win a gold medal. That last moment changed everything,” said Sindhu after the Indian hit two tired returns into the net to be felled by the second match point.
But she had played out of her skin through the match, subjecting her 5’11 body to enormous strain as she refused to let Okuhara, who was equipped with better strokes, to run away with the match. Taller of the two and with a higher centre of gravity that makes these long rallies more exhausting for her, Sindhu threw everything she had into this match, yet fell short.
The Rio Olympics finals had heralded Sindhu’s emergence and caught India’s imagination, though the silver had been a happier culmination of her maiden Games. At Glasgow, having already won two bronze and starting as the higher seeded player, this silver would have hurt.
Sindhu had slept at 2 am after her semifinal Saturday, and said it will be difficult to sleep for days if she keeps thinking about what happened in this match. On Sunday, she simply had no fuel left in the tank, shuffling front and back, trying to keep all the shuttles in.
And yet, the day ended in a fabulous World Championship result for India — with both Saina Nehwal and Sindhu on the steps of the podium. Nehwal, who watched the final standing along the railings, later walked up to coach Gopichand and said, “Mera petrol khatam ho gaya dekhte, dekhte (I ran out of fuel, just watching this game)! Wonderful match.” Such was the emotion at the end of the game that the coach even joked, “It had to end someplace. It couldn’t go on.”
Saina, Sindhu and Gopichand later posed for pictures together with fans. It was a glorious reunion — stitched together by Sindhu’s brilliance. The gold, surely, will come in due time.