Updated: March 7, 2021 7:47:21 am
PV Sindhu has something that Carolina Marin cannot conjure with the fastest of her windmill arm speed: an empty box to tick, a medal cabinet thirsting for the Olympic title, the hunger to snatch the crown. A missing medal, metallurgically classified as gold, carved out of tiny electronic pieces at Tokyo. Marin has the target pinned to her back, and a pack of challengers in pursuit.
How does one pretend they haven’t won an Olympic gold medal? How does one stop a bunch of outrageously skilled and relentlessly motivated women from coveting what only you have? After An Se Young and Tai Tzu Ying earlier in Thailand, now Sindhu gets her chance to poke the Spaniard’s incredible confidence in the run-up to her Olympic crown defense, at the finals of the Swiss Open on Sunday.
The Indian will find plenty of tiny advantages to exploit – she spent 33 minutes less on the court, trying to secure her place in the final (taking 43 minutes to down Mia Blichfeldt). Sindhu also finished earlier – even as Marin was dragged into a decider against Thai fighter Pornpawee Chochuwong for 76 minutes. Recovery is badminton’s buzzword.
Sindhu was in staggering touch on her overhead cross-courts throughout the neck-n-neck 22-20 first set against the gritty Dane in the semis. She remained suitably irritated and brooked no resistance from Mia, changing tactics to switch to punishing flat, fast attacks in the second set claiming it 21-10. By doing so, she managed to exact revenge for the opening round loss in Thailand – Sindhu’s first match after returning on tour this year.
It is said that nobody quite knew Sindhu at Rio (though she had a couple of World Championship bronze medals by then), helping her pop some nasty surprises on favourites – denying Tai Tzu and Okuhara the big medals.
Five years on, everyone knows what the towering Indian is capable of: St Jakobshalle witnessed a clutch of 21-7 dismissive scorelines against big names when she claimed gold at the 2019 Worlds.
Marin will find a considerably more combative Indian across the court now.
She’s yet to drop a set, the Indian, at Basel. And though she won’t grow flair or creative shock overnight, like what helped Tai Tzu to snatch the World Tour Finals against Marin, Sindhu is working some pretty novel angles from the mid-court, making use of her reach laterally along with the vertical steep attacks.
Sindhu’s all-out assaults to win the World Championship might not necessarily scare off Marin – she herself stamps her authority using speed and aggression, and has the defense to absorb the Sindhu firepower. But if the 25-year-old World No 7 Indian fetches up feeling confident about her body defense, then she can be trusted to give back as good as she’s peppered with.
There is also a new-found confidence at the net, as her tentative lunges on the forehand forecourt corner are almost negligible now.
To be sure, Marin had looked unassailable in the first two tournaments in Thailand. For all of Chochuwong’s fightback, she couldn’t put down the trademark Marin finish in the semis. So once again, shuttle’s two most dominant aggressive women’s singles players line up for a final.
The 27-year-old Marin celebrated 19 August, 2020, twirling her gold medal round her fingers, captioning the image: ‘4 years together, my little friend.’
Though the world has watched them face off on the big stage only 5 years back, the Sindhu-Marin rivalry dates back 10 years, starting at the Maldives International in 2011. Sindhu had won that one in three, with a first set score of 21-7. In their 8-5 record, tilting towards the Spaniard, there are a mere three three-setters: Maldives, the Rio final and another in Denmark, when Sindhu made her first Super Series final by beating Marin.
Ten matches have been wrapped up in straight sets, and if Marin blitzes to the first, she tends to bulldoze through the second – including the 2018 World Championship at China. Sindhu though has ticked off that box, and won’t hold back in ticking off Marin to land the first jab, heading into Tokyo.
Marin’s memoir titled ‘Puedo Porque Pienso Que Puedo’ (I can because I believe I can) is a rage in Spanish markets. She reckons she can defend her precious title. Sindhu tends to believe otherwise.
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