The BWF World Tour Super 300 Barcelona Spain Masters event suffered grievously due to the absence of big names. Still, it managed to produce some brilliant badminton which was highly enjoyable for the fans.
For the locals, the tournament ended in great disappointment as their favorite, the Spanish badminton queen Carolina Marin, lost in the final to the unfancied Thai player Pornpawee Chochuwong. Viktor Axelsen, however, saw off his Thai opponent Kunlavut Vitidsarn to ensure that there was no similar upset in the men’s singles final.
For Indian fans, the disappointing run since PV Sindhu’s World Championship victory continues. This was a make-or-break tournament for Saina Nehwal, and she couldn’t make it. Ajay Jayaram kept the Indian flag flying till the semis but at 32 years of age, one can’t look forward to much from him in the coming years.
As the tournament is now behind us, let us look back at the most important lessons we learnt from it. Yes it was a low-profile event, but there are certain takeaways which we must not forget.
Saina’s continuing misery
The possibility of Saina Nehwal competing in the Tokyo Olympics became even more faint after this event. She faced a couple of easy opponents at the start but when she came across her first decent opponent - Busanan Ongbamrungphan, a mid-level player from Thailand – at the quarterfinal stage, she failed.
It is highly likely that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be the first since the Athens 2004 Games that won’t have Saina in it.
To be honest, the Indian's powers have been waning for some years now. She did manage to make a recovery in 2017 by winning the bronze at the World Championships in Glasgow, but there has been little else to her credit since then.
Jayaram takes center-stage
If Saina’s form is worrying, the Indian men’s singles community isn’t faring much better. Though B Sai Praneeth reached the semis of the World Championship, there has been little else to boast of since the heady days of 2017 and 2018 when Kidambi Srikanth, HS Prannoy and Praneeth were regularly producing good results.
However, there was one bright spot in the tournament for India - the good performance by Ajay Jayaram. His victory over Kidambi was an upset and interestingly, the 32-year-old followed his semifinal appearance with a cryptic response to BAI’s tweet. It suggested that he isn’t too happy with the association, and that they haven’t supported him enough.
Marin far from her best
The biggest shock of the event was Carolina Marin’s defeat at the hands of Pornpawee Chochuwong in the women’s singles final. Chochuwong is a little-known player among the Thai fraternity; she is not just behind former World Champion Ratchanok Intanon, but also Busanan Ongbamrungphan.
But Chochuwong produced an extremely special display against Marin on the latter’s home turf.
The three-time World Champion is known for her aggressive style and her ability to steamroll her opponents with speed and power. But unfortunately for her, Chochuwong dominated the front court in their match and never let the Olympic Champion get the upper hand.
Also, it has to be said that Marin was far from her best. She seemed to be trying too hard, and lacked precision with her attempted winners.
She also suffered from the peculiar conditions of the court. After winning the first game, she was unable to push the ball deep in the second game due to the prevailing drift. This allowed the front-court game of Chochuwong to prosper.
The 22-year old Thai also won a majority of the net exchanges, which created further trouble for Marin.
However, fans of the Olympic Champion shouldn’t panic as yet. It is quite possible that she is preserving her energy for the mega event in Tokyo, which may have caused her to not play at optimum speed.
Furthermore, even if this is a dip in form, it’s better that it has come now. Marin could well end up peaking in time for the Olympics.
Axelsen wins, but has some way to go
Viktor Axelsen retained his title in Barcelona but he wasn't quite at his best. Axelsen is known for getting frustrated at time when things are not going his way. There were times during his final when that was the case again, and he was also inaccurate with his shots on occasion.
A victory here would do good to his confidence but his real problem is his inability to find a way to defeat Japan’s Kento Momota – the favourite to win the gold in Tokyo. Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting is also someone who seems to have an upper hand over the Dane.
Until Axelsen gets the better of these players, he still has some work to do.