Hyderabad: Playing in front of the home crowd inside the jam-packed Gachibowli Indoor Stadium, Hyderabad Hunters' unbeaten ace Carolina Marin dropped the opening game against Delhi Dashers' Sung Ji Hyun in the semi-final 1 of the Premier Badminton League (PBL).
Interestingly in last year's edition, Sung had defeated Marin in a 'Trump' match after losing the opening game to send her former team Mumbai Rockets to the final. Surely, Marin had the same feeling on Friday. But despite not being at her best, she floored the Korean in the last two games to avenge last year's loss and guide Hunters to their maiden final.
Marin changed her approach and showed more attacking intent coupled with a variety of strokes. Still, her movements indicated that there is a lot to catch up. "It was a very tough match against Sung Ji Hyun. She is always a tough opponent. The first game wasn't so good. She was surely nervous, out of position and lost focus but the decider looks impressive," said coach Fernando Rivas, who applauded his ward for the way she turned around the game."It was a 'Trump' match so she was under pressure after going a game down but she responded brilliantly," he added.
It was evident by her relatively slow on-court movements that Marin was not delivering according to expectations. The Spaniard has been struggling to instill the fear factor she once used to. Multiple injuries post Rio Olympics have hampered her chances of going the full distance at tournaments.
Before sustaining a hip injury during the Hong Kong Open in October last year — which kept her out of the Dubai World Superseries Finals — Marin was only able to put her hands around the European Championships in April and the Japan Open crown. After playing some exquisite badminton at the start of the season, the Spaniard would falter right at the end.
To begin with, she lost to PV Sindhu at the India Open final before succumbing to pressure twice against Tai Tzu Ying at the Malaysian and Singapore tournaments. As she falls in the top-15 category where it is mandatory for the shuttler to compete in 12 tournaments, her injury-marred performances raise doubts over her fitness ahead of the cramped 2018 calendar year.
Rebuilding Marin 2.0
In a discipline where the competition is wide open, it takes something out of the ordinary to get the best results possible and move up the ladder. It is an even tougher task, especially for Marin, whose excellent form was derailed due to a few niggles in 2017. Although the Spaniard confirmed that she will play the Indonesia, Thailand and the India Opens, her major focus will be in Birmingham. "I'm not 100 percent fit because I came from an injury. But now, after the PBL, I have to prepare for my next goal which is the All England Open, she said.
For coach Rivas, it is even more taxing to reshuffle things just so Marin can get back to winning ways. "When you are injured, you feel very sad. It is natural. It's about not knowing what to do next. It was a hidden (hip) injury in a very small place. So, it was really difficult to spot. And then the doctors figured out and she was back on the court. It's not a problem of motivation.
At the age of 24, Marin is already an Olympic gold medallist and a two-time world champion. After her win over Sung, Marin admitted that she was down on motivation to rebuild her game and regain her form for major tournaments. "After the Olympics, I thought I have now won everything. What else now? Also, I got a serious injury so I couldn’t practice 100 percent until January when I came for PBL last year. Yes, it is difficult to keep your mind thinking about another dream, about another goal,” she said.
Moreover, to enter what looks like one of the most gruelling years, after an off-colour season would surely take a toll both physically and mentally. What Marin learned in the transition period is something Rivas wants his ward to focus on. "We needed to adapt to certain training methods for months. To recover from injury twice wasn't easy but it's about focusing on what we can do and not on things we cannot. For now, we have the same structure, it's just the small tweaks here and there," he explained.
The 24-year-old said that she has been working with a psychologist to get herself back on the court. "It helps me mentally," said Marin who further added that playing with her dogs and spending time with close ones back in Spain during the injury time helped her recover quickly.
Marin also had a message for her rivals, “I have to think that I am just 24 years old and have to win more titles. Like another All England, another World Championships medal, maybe another Olympic Games. So, I have more dreams to achieve.”
Rivas later stated that it is about making the right choice while picking tournaments for a top player. And for Marin, the 2018 calendar is already set. "Most of it. Unless injuries come back to haunt both of us, Rivas laughs. "But she has everything to pull it off again. The main focus for 2018 is to keep healthy and development in certain areas," he signed off.
Updated Date: Jan 14, 2018 19:56:25 IST