China Open Superseries Premier: PV Sindhu, Carolina Marin's loss to Gao Fangjie raises issue of fatigued stars
The series of shock results in the women’s singles threw up several questions, including the one inadvertently raised by the talented Gao Fangjie, who defeated PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin in her giant-killing run to the title round.
Just how intensely competitive the world of badminton women’s singles is can be gauged from the fact that two former world champions who had notched up fighting victories in Friday’s quarter-finals of the China Open Superseries Premier championships were brought to heel in the penultimate round in Fuzhou on Saturday.
Two-time former (2014 and 2015) world champion and Rio Olympics gold medalist Carolina Marin of Spain, who had tamed the host nation’s seventh-ranked He Bingjiao after a titanic 93-minute battle at 21-15, 22-24, 22-20 on Friday, was eliminated on Saturday by Chinese qualifier Gao Fangjie by a 21-19, 21-19 scoreline in 61 minutes. The Spaniard, currently ranked World No 4, was just a little slow on her feet after the previous day’s battle-royal against her fellow-southpaw, He.
Thailand’s 2013 world champion Ratchanok Intanon, who had knocked out the top-seeded Taiwanese World No 1, Tai Tzu Ying, at 10-21, 21-9, 22-20 in a delectable 56-minute stroke-fest in the quarter-finals, simply could not muster up a gallop against Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi in her semi-final clash, and ended up on the wrong end of a 21-14, 21-18 verdict.
When one considers the fact that Gao had sidelined India’s world No 2, P V Sindhu, by a one-sided 21-11, 21-10 margin in the quarter-finals, even as World No 3, Sung Ji Hyun of South Korea had bitten the dust in the second round against another teenaged Chinese qualifier, Ji Shuting, one can see that not even one of the world’s top four ranked players could reach the final of this prestigious tournament.
Nor, for that matter, could reigning Japanese world champion, Nozomi Okuhara, who threw in the towel after playing a solitary point on the first day of the tournament, citing an unspecified injury. Indeed, after winning the year-ending Superseries grand finals in December 2015, and the All-England title in March 2016, the 22-year-old Nagano native has spent an inordinate amount of time in the past two years on the sidelines, with injuries to her knee and playing shoulder.
There were not as many surprises in the men’s singles event of the China Open, in which reigning world champion and top seed, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, made the final, where he will take on two-time former world champion and No 6 seed, Chen Long of China. However, the series of shock results in the women’s singles threw up several questions, the most pertinent of which was inadvertently raised by the undoubtedly talented Chinese teen Gao in her giant-killing run to the title round.
Former two-time Indian national champion Vimal Kumar, who has been serving for several years as the chief coach of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, has this to say about the manner of Sindhu’s loss to Gao: “Sindhu was struggling even in the National Championships in Nagpur. In fact, after the Nationals, she should have realised her physical and mental condition and pulled out from both China and Hong Kong, and fully focused (her attention) on winning the Dubai Superseries finals.
“Immediately after the Dubai finals, she has to play the PBL (Premier Badminton League); and these continuous activities can put lots of stress on her body, leaving her very little time for her preparations. The compulsions are such that the priorities are often sidelined.”
It cannot be denied that a fair share of the blame for the injuries sustained by the players must be brought to the door of the coaches who are in charge of planning the annual playing schedule of their wards. These players are almost always outstanding athletes requiring constant care and fine-tuning.
Most of the players work seven to eight hours a day at their “jobs”, which are just like any other 40-hours-a-week white-collar work done by the average man in the street, except that the athletes rarely get a day off from their constant drudgery of training and playing, with very little time for all the extra-curricular activities that normal youngsters indulge in. Training, practising, eating and drinking, and sleeping, to give their highly-strung bodies adequate rest. If it were not for this single-minded dedication to their craft, they would not get the results they covet.
It would take a very canny and cerebral coach to manage the workload of a top player, and keep that player in optimum condition for the tournaments that matter. This responsibility becomes even more onerous if the player lacks a basic robust constitution. Someone who is easily prone to injury, or who does not possess good footwork, would be much harder to manage.
For all her talent, strength, power and aggression, and excellent use of her height, Sindhu cannot be said to be a graceful mover on the court in the mould of a Tai Tzu Ying or a Ratchanok Intanon, or even a Carolina Marin.
The Hyderabadi reaches all corners of the court, yes; but with an industrious flailing of arms and legs, not a light-footed dance like Okuhara or a weightless glide like Tai. Ergo, Sindhu is much more susceptible to injury than her peers who possess better footwork; and has thus to be managed by her trainers and coaches with greater care and sensitivity.
If Sindhu is handled correctly, she will ascend to the topmost rung of the rankings ladder and capture the world championship gold medal, of that there can be no doubt. But only so long as she is treated like a thoroughbred, rather than a carthorse!
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