Ahead of Paris, Marin shows she is a force to be reckoned with - Hindustan Times
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Ahead of Paris, Marin shows she is a force to be reckoned with

By, New Delhi
Mar 18, 2024 11:13 PM IST

The last five years have been tough for the Spaniard but the All England triumph showed the tide may finally be turning

Carolina Marin fell on her knees with her face in her hands. As the 30-year-old got up while wiping away her tears, she let out a shriek before running to hug her mother in the stands who was wrapped in a Spanish flag.

Carolina Marin celebrates on the podium.(AFP) PREMIUM
Carolina Marin celebrates on the podium.(AFP)

Overwhelmed with emotion, the mother-daughter duo cried a bit more as a packed Arena Birmingham rose to deliver a standing ovation to the Spaniard for claiming her second All England Open Badminton Championships title after an incredible gap of nine years.

Carolina is a big name in badminton. An Olympic gold, three World Championships, six European Championship crowns. But the last five years have been an extremely tough period for the Spaniard.

The three-time world champion suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in January 2019 forcing her to retire from the final of Indonesia Masters to hand Saina Nehwal her last title till date. After being out for several months, she made a roaring return to clinch the China Open crown in September 2019.

The 2016 Olympic champion remained in good form despite Covid-19 halting the 2020 calendar, winning four of five finals in early 2021, making herself the favourite for the Tokyo Olympics. But as fate would have it, Carolina suffered a second ACL tear – this time in her left knee – in addition to a double meniscus tear, forcing her to withdraw from not just the Games but also the World Championships at the end of 2021.

For any athlete, to lose more than three years of their prime is difficult to recover from. In addition, Carolina also had to deal with the loss of her father, who died in early 2020 due to an accident.

Following months of frustration and rehabilitation, Carolina returned to the circuit in April 2022. Though she claimed gold at the European Championships, the title, realistically, isn’t as big as claiming the Asian Championships as most of the best shuttlers come from Asia. A clear example are the rankings where only three in the top 20 are non-Asians including Carolina.

Carolina realised where she’s at as she made only one other final in the rest of 2022 – the French Open. For an average shuttler, it would have been acceptable but not Carolina.

Carolina took inspiration from another Spanish southpaw, tennis legend Rafael Nadal, who has also had his fair share of injuries in the recent past.

After putting in the hard yards in practice, her game slowly started reaching her best. Last year was the first time in four years when she admitted that she was playing without pain.

“I had doubts in the process of coming back and playing at a competitive level. That's when you have the most doubts. They are difficult processes. My two injuries were pretty bad, especially the second. But we continued fighting and working towards our objective in mind, most of all the Olympic Games. We continue to do so with all the enthusiasm and the will to get to the goal," Carolina was quoted as saying to Olympics.com.

On her return, Carolina started converting the early round exits to quarter-final losses, the defeats at the last eight stage into semis until she made her first final of the year at the 2023 Indonesia Masters in January and finally won the Orleans Masters – a Super 300 event – in April 2023.

That title provided the 30-year-old enough confidence to challenge the best in the business which had changed since she underwent her first knee surgery in 2019. The likes of Ratchanok Intanon, Nozomi Okuhara, Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Li Xuerui had been replaced by An Se Young, Chen Yufei, Akane Yamaguchi and Tai Tzu Ying, who are nowadays referred as the ‘Big 4’ of women’s badminton.

Carolina would regularly challenge the Big 4 last year but would eventually falter at the last hurdle, losing the Indonesia Open, Denmark Open, World Tour Finals and the World Championships in the finals.

Clearly, physically she is nowhere close to where she was during her prime when she won an Olympic gold and three World Championship titles from 2014 to 2018, but mentally the Spaniard is one of the strongest on the tour. Feisty and gutsy, Carolina has a knack of getting under the skin of her opponents with her shrieks, tendencies like hurrying for the next point to unsettle her rivals.

A fine example was when Carolina got into an argument with Sindhu during the 2023 Denmark Open semis with a heated exchange between the two at the net. Athletes fighting or arguing is a rare sight in badminton where players are not even allowed to show aggression while facing their opponent. The two rivals earned the wrath of the umpire as they were handed yellow cards. But Carolina had done enough to rattle Sindhu as the Spaniard easily won the decider 21-7 after two close games.

With the All England title – Carolina's second after nine years when she beat Saina in the 2015 final – the six-time European champion has shaken the existing order in women’s badminton. She beat three of the Big 4 – Olympic champion Chen, Asian champion Tai Tzu and two-time world champion Akane – on the way to the title, throwing her hat in contention for the gold in Paris. Having missed the opportunity three years ago in Tokyo, she wants to make amends.

And who would bet against her? With Paris only four months away, Carolina is peaking at the right time. She comprehensively defeated Chen in the quarters, completely dominating the Chinese at the net. A day later against Tai Tzu, who is perhaps the most complete player of this generation, Carolina quite literally toyed with the Chinese Taipei shuttler, earning a facile 21-13, 21-12 win.

She faced her toughest fight against Akane in the final but still did enough to eke out the first game before the Japanese pulled out due to an issue with her hip. Carolina eventually won the competition without dropping a single game – the first time this has happened since May 2021.

“We (me and my team) thought about the need to improve but not (just) for this tournament. My main aim is going to be at the Olympic Games this summer. I am happy because this is the way I have to keep going. I want to keep the focus in the right way,” Carolina said after her win on Sunday.

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