Denmark Open: Carolina Marin's 'wolf' spirit tames PV Sindhu's fight in semis
In the semifinal against her arch-nemesis PV Sindhu, world no. 6 Marin brought to display why she likened herself to a wolf - by winning a 73-minute clash 21-18, 19-21, 21-7 in what was a repeat of the 2016 Rio Olympics women's singles final.
'I am a wolf. When it bites something, never opens its mouth. This is me on the court.' That is how three-time world champion Carolina Marin sees herself - an ambitious soul who never shies from hard work, ramping up her fitness and minting her skills for youngsters. After winning a three-setter against world number 4 Tai Tzu Ying in the quarterfinal at the Denmark Open Super 750, the Spaniard told this to the BWF.
In the semifinal against her arch-nemesis PV Sindhu, world no. 6 Marin brought to display why she likened herself to a wolf - by winning a 73-minute clash 21-18, 19-21, 21-7 in what was a repeat of the 2016 Rio Olympics women's singles final. It was Marin's fifth straight win over Sindhu and second win in 2023, the last being the Malaysia Open in January.
On Saturday, Marin won a see-saw battle in the first game 21-18. Though Sindhu managed to take an 11-10 lead at the first game break, Marin cruised, pushing Sindhu to the backcourt and fetching winners with smashes, flicks, drops, and net kills. Marin resuscitated her old touch of intelligent and agile play in a visual flourish.
The match took a captivating turn in the second game, with Sindhu fighting back, rattling her storied rival with over-the-head smashes and transitional shots from backcourt to front and vice versa. At 3-1, Sindhu would deceive Marin, creating an angled return and placing the shuttle in the wrong hand that world no. 6 failed to answer.
Till the mid-game, it was a lop-sided affair, with Sindhu taking an 11-3 at the interval. But Marin would bring her 'wolf' spirit to august effect after the break, winning seven points in a row to script a fight back and give Sindhu a scare. Her hard smashes, swift movement, and reflex shots saw Sindhu frequently drifting the shuttle to the net.
At 6-11, Sindhu's defense was broken as Marin charged at the net and hit three rapid smashes, with the last one landing in the deep court between the Indian shuttler's legs.
Sindhu, too, showed her attacking prowess by producing an identical over-the-head smash. Marin looked puzzled after Sindhu's relentless smashing left her defense breached. Sindhu would break Marin's point spree, winning three points on the trot to extend her lead to 13-10, deftly placing the shuttle in Marin's backhand.
Though Sindhu soon raced away to a 16-12 lead, Marin brought her second spell of attacking game into the fore by trailing 15-16, with precise decision-making - letting Sindhu's tosses go long, and capitalizing on Sindhu's unforced errors at the net. The world no. 12 Indian's struggle with Marin's rapid movement and swift coverage of the court became evident here.
Sindhu encountered that, winning four points in a row to reach game point. But Marin, who has been in fiery form and sound physical shape, fought back again in a sapping game to make it 19-20, hitting a crosscourt smash to Sindhu's backhand. Sindhu looked puzzled.
The Indian shuttler would regain her composure and give one back to Marin instantly, preventing a straight-game loss by hitting a killing smash to Marin's backhand to force the decider.
Game of temperament, arguments, and skills
As a place in the final was at stake, the tension flared up in the deciding third game. Marin took an early 6-2 lead, winning a draining rally.
Thereafter, it was one-way traffic though. Marin stomped around the court, displaying her vigor and spirit, drawing Sindhu closer to the net. Marin would win two points in a row from the net, with Sindhu struggling to stand a chance to return the shuttle.
At this stage, a heated argument broke out between the two players - who for long called themselves 'good friends'. Sindhu complained about Marin's roars, early serves and frequent steppings into her side of the court. Marin objected to the umpire's judgments. Both players received yellow cards in a rare scene in badminton, a gentle but extremely fast and exhausting sport.
Sindhu was completely shaken by Marin's smashes and blazing temperament. Despite the frequent warnings by the umpire, Marin was nonchalant, however, and took an 11-2 lead at the interval.
In terms of skills and game-building in the decider, Sindhu was way behind Marin. Being the faster, swifter, and better-equipped player, Marin progressed to the final, winning the third game 21-7. Following this win, she extended her confrontation with Sindhu to 11-5.
This was Sindhu's second straight semifinal loss on the World Tour. Last week at the Arctic Open, she lost to Wang Zhi Yi. Overall, it was Sindhu's fourth semifinal defeat this year. She last played a final at the Madrid Spain Masters in April and lost it.
Marin, who had been struggling with injuries for the last two years, was nowhere close to her best, fighting to find her form back at the beginning of the year.
She even missed the Tokyo Olympics due to knee injuries, and the year 2022 also did not see the best of her. But this year, Marin, now aged 30, has been in phenomenal form, winning two titles and finishing as runner-up at the BWF World Championships, ambushing top players with her temperament, roars, and freshly minted skills and improving her depleted world ranking in the process.
For 28-year-old Sindhu, however, the quest for a similar coup remains a story in progress.