Rio Olympics 2016: Meet Carolina Marin, PV Sindhu’s opponent in the gold medal match
Inspired by a love of flamenco dancing and sporting hero Rafael Nadal, Spain's Carolina Marin dreams of becoming the first European woman to win a badminton Olympic gold in Rio
After three consecutive wins over higher-ranked opponents, PV Sindhu now faces her toughest battle yet at the Rio Olympics 2016, when she takes on world number one Carolina Marin in the gold medal match.
The Indian ace will take on top seeded Spanish shuttler Carolina Marin in the women's singles final on Friday, after they both cruised in their respective semifinals.
Sindhu edged her Japanese counterpart Nozomi Okuhara 21-19 in the first game and the second also looked like it was heading to the wire with the pair locked at 10-10, before Sindhu raced away to a 21-11 win. Marin beat Chinese defending champion Li Xuerui in straight games, as she kept her quest for a first Olympic gold medal on track with a commanding performance.
Ahead of Friday's final, Sindhu has convincingly beaten Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying, world number two and London silver medallist Wang Yihan and Nozomi Okuhara in a row. But Marin might not be as easy. The world number one is one of the most dangerous players in the world.
Inspired by a love of flamenco dancing and sporting hero Rafael Nadal, Marin could become the first European woman to win a badminton Olympic gold. Marin's ambitions are lofty but realistic. She is a two-time world champion in a sport normally dominated by Asian athletes.
She is also ranked number one in the world and has blazed the trail for badminton in Spain, where minority sports struggle for funding and attention in the shadows of the nation's star-studded football teams.
Marin was dumped out in the first round in London four years ago as a 19-year-old by gold medal winner Li Xuerui of China, but much has changed since winning the world championships for the first time two years ago.
She retained her world title in Indonesia last year and won the European championships for a second time in May to consolidate her place as world number one and the only European player in the top 10.
This time, the gold is well within her reach. But it will not be as easy as a world championship. "It will be more difficult than the world championships because there is more pressure, more expectations from the press and the people are very different to a world or European championship. But I am desperate for it to come and, above all, enjoy the Olympics," she had told AFP ahead of the Games.
The unlikely world number one also had an unlikely initiation into badminton. A key to the unexpected rise of a girl from Huelva on Spain's sunny southwest coast to world number one was her love of flamenco as a youngster. "I danced flamenco and thanks to a friend I got to know badminton. They are very different, but there are some movements in dancing flamenco, above all the fluidity of my body, which helps me play badminton," she said.
Yet, despite speaking of the 14-time tennis grand slam champion in reverential terms, she admitted she has already done more for badminton in her homeland than Rafa Nadal has for tennis. "Before Nadal we had already discovered tennis. Manolo Santana was the one that opened tennis to Spain. However, I am the one who has opened badminton to Spain. I feel very proud and fortunate to have done so. Hopefully in the future, we will have more Spanish champions," she said.
Gone are the days when she says taxi drivers used to ask her what badminton was when she arrived back from international competitions with racket in hand. "After the first world championship nobody asked me 'what is badminton?' People recognise me in the streets, when I get into a taxi they congratulate me and say they are honoured to give me a lift, so things have changed a lot in Spain."
Marin will look to continue her dominance in the final and is eager to go get the gold. "I don't know what's going to happen in the final but I feel emotional because I have worked so hard for this and I want to collect the reward tomorrow," said Marin after her semifinal win.
However, Sindhu is also ready and shows no signs of being a walkover for the top seed. " I'm really focused and prepared for it. Of course she's a very tough opponent and it's not going to be easy tomorrow because it's an Olympic final and also she's really playing well," said the Indian.
With inputs from agencies
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