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Friday, February 26, 2021

Thailand leg wrap up: Queen’s Ambit is the World

Heading into Tokyo, women's singles will remain the most anticipated gold medal.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: February 1, 2021 6:03:03 pm
After cleverly getting the better of World Champion, PV Sindhu (on a good day), and Olympic champion Carolina Marin (on an equally good one), Tai Tzu Ying has shown she can pace herself for the big title on Finals Day. (Twitter/BadmintonAssociationofThailand)

Badminton’s return from the wilderness at Thailand was as painful at the start as it was beautiful in the end. Starting with a flurry of Covid-19 scares and positives for India, the tournament progressed to some superlative international badminton, which had gone missing. Uncertainty persists in how the sport proposes to go on hopping from one country to next through qualification period for the Olympics. But here’s the pickings from Thailand before the countdown begins for All England.

Tai Tzu Ying’s 2021?

Neutrals root for her and she’s just picked her third season-ending title before the month-long break. But after cleverly getting the better of World Champion, PV Sindhu (on a good day), and Olympic champion Carolina Marin (on an equally good one), Tai Tzu has shown she can pace herself for the big title on Finals Day. Playing three successive weeks making all the finals, she was strategic in preserving her energy and rationing her brilliance for the big final. That she looked down and out just 72 hours before triumphing over the unstoppable Marin, points to Tai Tzu getting smarter in her focus. The clever deception off court was much needed for someone accused of being too talented but failing to win the big titles.

Women’s Singles golden era

Unlike tennis which looked rudderless in the absence of a definite Big 3 or 4 with Grand Slams being shared by several, badminton has managed to keep things interesting while lacking the same consistency of championship contenders. Heading into Tokyo, women’s singles will remain the most anticipated gold medal. On her day – of which there are many – Carolina Marin can look unstoppable, like she did last three weeks.

READ | Thailand Open: On return, PV Sindhu fails to go the distance

Tai Tzu is snapping at her heels of course, Sindhu threatens to bulldoze when the fancy takes her (or the occasion is right), and the Japanese and Chinese who didn’t turn up, plus young Korean An Se Young and Thai Chochuwong mean 2021 Tokyo is priming up nicely. That they play high level badminton in finals, means the anti-climax is out of fashion.

Dare the decibel

Thailand didn’t risk crowds, but proved that badminton can innovate in broadcast production. BWF attempted the SFXI audio hologram enhancing technology which is trying to mimic the in-stadia aural experience with respect to players.

However, badminton’s literal breakout during the Thailand leg of tournaments is the women players expressing themselves freely and adding a little dash to the decibel. In a sport ridiculously known for its conformists and staid practitioners, Carolina Marin brought the headbanging hell raising shrieks, which have frankly added timbre to the sport.

While trying to match or outdo her, the likes of Sindhu, and now Tai Tzu Ying and Akane Yamaguchi have started pumping fists and celebrating points vocally, adding intensity and expression to proceedings. Most refreshing is the bunch of Korean women’s doubles players – Kim / Kong and Lee / Shin, egged on by coach Kim, who is as animated as her charges. Purists might get annoyed, but badminton needed this unsnobbish breakout of its talented bunch to set it apart from military drills-like ‘shut up and play’ aural prison cages of earlier years.

India’s mens singles

Kidambi Srikanth won pretty much nothing, but his game is on track and with luck he will make his place amongst the best competing at Tokyo. But even if he doesn’t, along with Sameer Verma and HS Prannoy, he gave enough evidence that the men’s singles bunch can compete with the Top 10 when they are injury-free and enjoying their games creatively. It’s a bummer then that the closely stacked pack of men’s singles are bereft of funding, because SAI & TOPS have capped their eligibility at Top 25. Internationally, these are crucial years for this bunch. Heading into a busy season, and most importantly on the back of two very poor ones owing to fitness, it is clear that the group needs to train together and hunt down tournament victories like a pack. For one, sparring is important in shuttle which is why China, Japan, Indonesia as well as European powerhouse Denmark (with head coach Kenneth Johannsen) train at one centre. Vittinghus, Axelsen and Antonsen all did well at Thailand.

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