Carolina Marin belongs to that rare breed of noisy and expressive, badminton players, and her on-court celebratory screams have been regularly piercing the highly sanitised environment in which women’s badminton has hitherto functioned. The Chinese rarely emote and believe in robotic proficiency – gold medal or first-round loss. The Thais reverentially fold hands each time they pick a shuttle. The Japanese are too busy trying to put together a plan to win. Miss Marin, 21 years of age, and from a country with no pedigree in shuttle prior to her emergence, however, is all raw emotion and honest expression to go with her expansive left-handed game. She maxes her talent with a deceptive tinge, and can create anything between a flutter to one right ruckus when on court.
On Sunday, Marin would break a billion hearts, and thoroughly enjoy demolishing Saina Nehwal’s dream of winning the All England title. The Spanish girl who won a World Championship before she won her first Super Series crown (at Birmingham on Sunday), showed utter disdain towards history — she’d never beaten Nehwal prior to this in three meetings, she herself had lost two finals in the season’s first two months. India was abuzz with the potential of its top shuttler creating history, the very thing that Marin would be so dismissive of in 65 minutes of boisterous bravado.
Nehwal started with supreme confidence, which comes from not dropping a set the whole week. At 20-11 in first set, Indians were readying to light up the firecrackers and celebrate their biggest contemporary woman athlete who would match legends Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand as All England champions. It was at this summit of absolute hope that Carolina Marin decided she would summon her super powers which are essentially an aggressively high-tempo game and a high-pitched fist-pumping routine as follow-up to winners.
Nehwal was operating at a high pace and smashing it around, when Marin got going on her overhead shots, where she strikes the shuttle very early and high in the air and magnifies her reach when swatting winning placements. From 20-11 – 9 set points for the Indian — Marin would offer a peek into her combative resistance, not giving up and punching holes into the third seeded Indian’s flurry of one-sided aggro as she’s narrow the gap to 20-16.
Nehwal won the first set, and even led 11-9 at break in the second, but Marin had now hit her stride and with exaggerated celebrations in those defiant points even while she trailed, she announced her intent to not buckle. Besides the overheads — her wristy deception happens with a snap of the wrist at an impressively contorted and high angle somewhere above her right shoulder — Marin would start grabbing advantage of the front-court keeping a stunningly high pace – a weapon with which you suspect Nehwal had intended to finish her opponent. Responding to fast with faster, Marin would use her freakish hand speed and quick reactions to get into position and dictate placement of her shuttles.
Pretty soon after the break, it was tough to tell if Nehwal had indeed dominated the earlier battle. She was being snared into errors and even as Marin levelled at 13-13 and sneaked ahead at 14-13, Nehwal looked visibly in trouble.
Marin had been in trouble last week for cheeky time-wasting tactics in the final at Germany, twice chided for her antics, but at Birmingham, the European champ would only resort to all-out aggression – her loud points merging into her louder celebration.
Upping the ante
Normally, the Indian is game for eyeball confrontations, but Marin was upping the ante and sowing seeds of doubt in the 24-year-old Indian’s head, even as her movement began to grievously falter.
It’d be wrong to think Nehwal was tiring or wasn’t upto the challenge physically. But mentally, Marin had chipped away at the Indian’s assurance as she grew unsteady in her returns. As a last ditch — and perhaps a tad late — Nehwal would attempt to lower the pace of the rallies, slow down the game after she’d lost the second set 21-14.
However, momentum had shifted right before her eyes and amidst a blur of errors she would dump the aggression while trying to shore up her defense. But caught in a half-cock stance, and with Marin blazing away with winners topped with her Nadal-esque animated celebrations, the power would go out of the Indian’s strokes, reducing them to a whimper.
Plan C after her back-up of trying to slow things down ought to have been drawing Marin into longer rallies, but there was pretty much nothing Nehwal could dictate as the Spaniard had decided she’d had enough of losing finals in third sets herself — she’d lost German open in three last week and Syed Modi to Nehwal in January — and grabbed the contest by the collar.
Nehwal couldn’t quite draw from her experience on Sunday, and allowed the first hint of bluster from Marin to grow into a full-blown brag from the Spaniard. The first Indian woman to reach the All England final, Nehwal would be left heart-broken, and amply hurt by a decider game submission of 21-7.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.