Few athletes are lucky to leave their sport on their terms. Fewer still can leave with a title victory at one’s favourite venue.
Tine Baun, the 33-year-old from Denmark, enacted a script right out of a fairytale. Even her countryman of another era, the famous children’s fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen, would have been pleased at the way it all turned out: a title victory in the final match of one’s career, against an opponent 15 years younger. It just couldn’t get better than this.
“What’s happened is absolutely amazing,” Baun said. “It’s exceeded all my expectations. I am so happy but I am not sure of all my emotions right now. But of all the successes, I think this feels the best. From the first day I felt so relaxed. My body was feeling good and my mind was positive. This one is even bigger than the others. I am so glad I decided to close the door here.”
It will take time to analyse the extent of Baun’s contribution to badminton. She is among the most accomplished players of this decade; she is certainly the greatest European women’s singles player of the last decade.
Baun was a late bloomer – she won her first Superseries, the All England, when she was 28 – because she had decided to focus on her studies. “I wanted to first assure myself of an education, and then focus on my badminton career,” she told this writer during her successful campaign in 2008.
Baun was an unusual sight. Ungainly and even awkward, the Dane’s height and broad shoulders defined her game – the big smashes that regularly breached opponents’ defences, or her reach, for which she needed minimum footwork. It was an elemental style, but within that she had learned to work the nuances: in yesterday’s final against the better skills of Ratchanok Intanon, it was Baun who outplayed her at the net with some delicate cross-net shots.
Baun’s earliest success was at the 2008 All England, which she won over China’s Lu Lan in a tense match; she repeated the feat in 2010, the 100th year of the All England, beating Saina Nehwal in the semis and Wang Yihan in the final. Over the five years since 2008, she became one of the world’s best, and a constant threat to the Chinese. Although she could never win a World or Olympic title, her record against the other top players of her generation speaks for itself: 5-8 against Wang Yihan; 2-0 against Jiang Yanjiao; 8-3 against Juliane Schenk; 4-5 against Saina Nehwal. Baun’s career was sandwiched between the generation of Xie Xingfang and Zhang Ning, and the new generation of Wang Yihan, Saina Nehwal and the others. It’s a measure of her toughness despite her advancing age that she still managed to hold her own against players far younger than her. The only player she could not quite conquer was the left-hander Wang Xin, who beat her in all nine contests.
Apart from her on-court prowess, Baun was always courteous. Like many of her Danish compatriots, she was always willing to speak at length about what had happened during the match, and she was unafraid to speak her mind. She was also frank about her own industrious style: “Other players are better runners than me,” she said, during the 2010 All England. “But my power-play helps me. I can depend on my own game rather than others’ mistakes; of course my reach helps.”
She had respect for Saina, whom she beat in the semifinals of that All England: “Saina has the power and runs well. I respect her a lot. She has good fighting spirit. I know Saina will be one of the main women’s players. I think she has developed well, she’s more stable, her attack is better, but also the way she fights all the time. She kept on hoping, and didn’t show any signs of giving up.”
Baun’s exit will be cause for some worry in Europe, which now has only a single player – Juliane Schenk – in the top-20, and Schenk is not getting any younger. But badminton has a way of throwing surprises. Perhaps her win yesterday will inspire a new generation of world-beaters from Denmark.
All England Super Series 2013, 2010, 2008
Copenhagen Masters 2009, 2008
Denmark Super Series 2009
Korea Super Series 2009
Malaysia Super Series 2009, 2008
Singapore Super Series 2008
Japan Super Series 2007
Swedish International 2006
Italian Open 2005
Swedish International Stockholm 2004