New Delhi: The badminton arena in Indira Gandhi Stadium was roaring with cheers and noise every time Nozomi Okuhara lost a point on Tuesday. Someone passing by would assume that some Indian player was getting those points, but that was not the case here.
Those cheers and loud noises were for Spanish shuttler and former Olympic gold medallist Carolina Marin. The Spaniard started her India Open campaign with a convincing win over Japan's Nozomi Okuhara with a score of 21-13, 21-18.
"I love to play here in India. I have many fans here. I know they love me and I love them. I think it's just a good connection and I'm grateful for that. I love playing in conditions like these where the crowd supports you," Carolina Marin said after her match.
Marin enjoys more than a decent fandom here, given her close contests with Indian superstar shuttler PV Sindhu over the years.
Currently ranked 9th in the world, Marin defeated World rank 13 Nozomi Okuhara without much difficulty. She overpowered the Japanese by 21-13 and 21-18.
Talking about the conditions here in India, Marin said, "The shuttle is a bit slow here but that is how we play - adapt every time we go to a different country. Drift can't be compared with Malaysia (laughs), I didn't find much drift here."
Marin, who was unable to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo in 2021 due to an ACL injury, is making a comeback after almost 18 months. This is the second time Marin has suffered an ACL tear. The first injury in 2019 forced Marin out for eight months.
"Before my injury, I would put lot of hours in training but now it is about the quality of the time. Coming back from an injury is difficult, specially when you have two big injuries. I had something on my mind - giving up was not the option for me," Marin said about her comeback.
One of her closest rivals and home favourite PV Sindhu is also making a comeback after five months. Sindhu lost to Carolina Marin in the recently concluded Malaysia Open 2023.
On Sindhu, Marin said, "I understand the mental space she had been in. I had two injury breaks of seven months and eighteen months. I don't think five months is much of a break but it gives you time to improve, work on yourself and spend time with family."
Carolina Marin will face world number 6 Ratchanok Intanon in the second round of India Open 2023 on Wednesday.