Carolina Marin: More than just the villian who broke a billion hearts
There was just one thing on the minds and lips of every Indian on Friday – the Olympics gold medal match between PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin. All talk, in every household around the country, centred on whether the 21-year-old, who had put together such a stupendous run to the final, could emulate shooter Abhinav Bindra and become independent India’s second individual gold medalist.
After the opening game, the hope that Sindhu would meet a billion expectations rose exponentially. As she battled her way to win it 21-19, an entire country was uplifted. The pressure was on the defending world champion and one could see that the Indian’s late surge had surprised her.
But as the saying goes, you can never write off a champion until the Fat Lady sings. The Spaniard came roaring back (both literally and figuratively) in the second game, and how. Racing away to a 6-1 lead, she put the Indian under severe pressure and showed why she was the defending wold champion and current World No. 1.
With each point that she won, Marin’s scream got louder, and you could sense that Sindhu was feeling the heat. The rallies were getting longer, both players were haring around the court and unlike in any of her previous matches, Sindhu’s defense and net play were being tested to their limit on the final day of the competition.
Marin eventually won the game 21-12 and the match was back on level terms. It was clear that the player who got off the blocks faster would have the edge in the decider and like she had done in the second game, the 23-year-old once again had the Indian trailing 2-6.
The key difference between this match and the rest of the matches involving Sindhu was that there were fewer smashes from the 21-year-old. That meant that she had to rely on her drop shots a lot more and also use the net more effectively.
While she tried to do the latter and even got Marin committing many errors at the net, it was in the former area that the Spaniard proved to be significantly tougher to counter, delivering several precise crosscourt drops which were too much for the Indian to retrieve.
In the end, Sindhu could run no longer and Marin became the first European women's singles shuttler to win an Olympic gold.
The reaction that followed left everybody watching – not just at home in India, but all around the world – feel deeply emotional. Marin knelt down on the court and wept inconsolably before Sindhu went to the other end to lift her, and the two exchanged hugs.
But there was a reason why Marin was so passionate throughout the match, and also so expressive after it. The gold medal win was a culmination of a dream that the Spaniard had set out to achieve a long, long time ago. It was a dream that she had conceived in London 2012, when as a 19-year-old, looking to make an impact on the world stage, she was humiliated in the group stage of the competition.
After that exit, Marin had tattooed the Olympic rings on her left wrist and made it her mission to succeed in Rio. But that wasn’t the only thing she did. For the next four years, she put in the hard yards and transformed herself into a machine, vowing that would never again face the kind of embarrassment that she suffered in 2012. Brick by brick she established herself as one of the best players on the circuit, and ultimately the very best.
Today, Marin has won every single high profile event there is to win in badminton. All-England? Check. World Championships? Check. Olympics gold? Check check. She is now the World No. 1 and the reigning queen of the sport; it wouldn’t be wrong to say she is firmly on her way to becoming one of the best of all time.
And you could see it in her play yesterday. While Sindhu tried everything in her power to bring the ultimate glory to her country, Marin had an answer every single time. Whether it was offense, defense, foot-speed, power or mental strength, there was nothing in Marin’s game that the Indian could exploit.
The Spaniard’s victory was a completion, a realisation of four years of hard work that she had put to be the best athlete that she could be. On that momentous Friday evening, even as a billion supporters cried out hoarsely for Sindhu to emerge triumphant, one athlete attained her badminton nirvana.
Right now Marin is a villain in the eyes of all Indian fans, but she’s so much more than that. She’s a champion that deserves to be celebrated just as much as Sindhu, and with time, we’ll all get around to that idea.