Thursday, August 16, 2018
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO
What is it with major events and Carolina Marin?
The Spaniard’s title win in Nanjing made her the first Women’s Singles player in history to win three World titles. That, and her Rio Olympics gold medal, have seen her capture the year’s most prestigious title four times in the last five years.
Interestingly, except for 2015, Marin has never dominated the season. This year, she arrived in Nanjing without a World Tour title to her name; her best being a lone semi-final in six events (apart from the European title). Similarly, in 2016, in the run-up to Rio Marin best was two semi-final performances in four Tour events. In 2014, the year she surprised everyone with her first World title, Marin hadn’t won a Tour event in eight appearances – losing even the Spanish Open final to Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour.
What this indicates is that the Spaniard (featured image) has mastered the ability to peak at the year’s standout event – the Olympics and the World Championships. In Nanjing, Marin was in a class of her own, shutting down rivals with ruthless efficiency.
Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan might have expected to trouble her in the second round, but Marin steamrolled her 21-9 21-8. Next was Japan’s Sayaka Sato, who was also dispatched in clinical fashion, 21-7 21-13.
India’s Saina Nehwal was her opponent in the quarter-finals, and most fans would have expected a difficult match for the Spaniard. Marin, however, only seemed to get better with every match, stunning the Indian 21-6 21-11, leading Nehwal to comment that she had never seen Marin play at such a high pace.
China’s He Bingjiao was the only player who would take a game off her; nevertheless, Marin recovered to eventually coast to a 13-21 21-16 21-13 victory. Around an hour after Marin had booked her place in her third World Championships final, familiar rival Pusarla V Sindhu followed her into the title round.
The Indian had fallen in two major finals, both hard-fought. In Rio she faded out only at the end, while in Glasgow last year, she lost the title to Nozomi Okuhara by the thinnest of margins. Her experience was expected to stand her in good stead against Marin.
And yet, once Marin broke away from the middle of the opening game, Pusarla’s challenge melted down in untypical fashion. The Indian was a frazzled mess in the second game, even as Marin bustled around the court imperiously.
“It’s been really special to be the first player to win three World Championships… This is really special because I, Carolina Marin, came back and I will fight for my next target,” declared the three-time World champion.
The big surprise in Women’s Singles was the stunning quarter-final exit of hot contender Tai Tzu Ying. The Chinese Taipei star was in unbeatable form heading to the Worlds, having lost just one match out of 35 through the season. It was against He Bingjiao that Tai unravelled, going down tamely after she’d recovered strongly in the second.
Meanwhile, defending champion Nozomi Okuhara (Japan) went down in the quarter-finals to Pusarla – a reversal of their fortunes from Glasgow; while compatriot Akane Yamaguchi made the semi-finals beating China’s Chen Yufei. It was Pusarla again who dented Japan’s hopes, getting the better of Yamaguchi in a thrilling semi-final, 21-16 24-22.
Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon and Canada’s Michelle Li were among the contenders who could not live up to their reputation. Intanon, the 2013 champion, struggled in her second round against Denmark’s Mia Blichfeldt before going down to Nehwal in straight games. Eleventh seed Li was surprised in the second round by Vietnam’s Nguyen Thuy Linh in a tight finish.
There were encouraging performances from the recent World Junior champions. Malaysia’s Goh Jin Wei outplayed Japan’s Aya Ohori in the second round before falling to Okuhara, while Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung did justice to her growing reputation by beating Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour in the opening round.
Perhaps the tournament’s most arresting image, however, will be that of USA’s Beiwen Zhang doing a full split in a sensational rally in her third round against Tai Tzu Ying. Beiwen won that point but not the match.