Glasgow: You could not differentiate them on the size of their hearts, or by their grit, or for that matter their skills. If it was not for the whopping 10-inch difference in their heights, one could have been forgiven for thinking, it was a mirror and not a net separating Nozomi Okuhara and PV Sindhu in the women’s World Badminton Championships final.
That there had to be a winner was more a pity, than a matter to rejoice. The scores 21-19, 20-22, 22-20 in Okuhara’s favour gave Japan their first-ever women’s singles gold, and it left only a silver for Sindhu. So, a breakthrough for Okuhara ended in a heartbreak for Sindhu.
For India, it was silver for the second time running and a third straight one in as many years at a global event.
Sindhu stands at 1.79m, a full 24 cms taller than the 1.55m Okuhara, but that never was a factor. The way they battled and competed, they could have been ballerinas on a dance floor or sluggers in a boxing ring. Each move was matched with equal panache and each punch returned with equal ferocity.
At the end of the 110-minute battle, they would have done well to have stretchers to carry them, but it was a medal each on a platter. But cruelly it was gold for one and silver for another.
In the end, it was not just the players, but every spectator at the Emirates Arena, too, seemed drained.
Okuhara floated and glided only to soar high suddenly and smash. Meanwhile, Sindhu dipped and rose and twirled her racket like a baton to play her backhands. Then all of the sudden the roles would be reversed.
The 22-year-olds coming to the stage with a 3-3 head-to-head record were one-game all and 20-20 in the decider, when Okuhara played a delicious drop which deceived and eluded Sindhu.
The trophy and the World Championships are now headed to Okuhara’s cabinet in Nagano prefecture in Japan, where the first Japanese gold medal at women’s singles in All England and the first individual Japanese Olympic badminton medal already have a place. In times to come, there will be a lot more of silverware in that overflowing showcase.
Sindhu, too, has her string of firsts, but without as many gold medals. The first Indian to win a World Championship medal, now has three, including the latest silver, and she was the first Indian to play an Olympic final.
“It was a great match, but it does hurt to finish second,” Sindhu would say. “Both of us gave everything we had, but in the end, she won.” Her shaking head, almost as in disbelief, was a story in itself.
As for Okuhara, speaking through an interpreter, said, “The Olympic medal was a big thing, but a World Championship gold will be a big thing for Japanese badminton and all our sportspersons.”
Coming into the final, Sindhu had the advantage of having won their two most recent encounters — in the Rio Olympics in August 2016, and in the 2017 Singapore Open Super Series four months ago. But this epic went to Okuhara, who now leads 4-3 in head-to-head matches.
Okuhara and Sindhu are both young and their recent clashes in Rio, Singapore and Glasgow suggest that this may just be the beginning of a long rivalry between two immensely talented stars.
For India, the event was historic with two women on the podium — Saina Nehwal with a bronze to go with her 2015 silver; and Sindhu with a silver to go with her 2013 and 2014 bronze medals. And yes, both have an Olympic medal each — bronze with Saina and silver with Sindhu. The race is on for who will get the first gold.
Though there were stages when one player would hold a seemingly handy lead, but it was not long before the other caught up or came close. Ultimately, Okuhara drew first blood with the first game at 21-19.
In the second, Sindhu got an early lead, but Okuhara, who often takes time to get into her rhythm, caught up again. From 17-20 she came to 20-all with two of the points coming of net cords dribbling onto Sindhu’s side. But the Indian hung in and won 22-20.
With tiredness setting in, both seemed to be taking more than 20 seconds for the time outs and Sindhu was even warned once in the middle of the third game.
It was back to the see-saw as the game ebbed and flowed. Okuhara got to the match point at 20-19 and then Sindhu pulled it back, only to net the next one to give the Japanese girl a second match point.
On this one, Okuhara caught Sindhu short with amazing drop, which even while having been an expected one was simply unpickable.
Okuhara accounted for Carolina Marin in the quarters; Saina in the semi-finals and Sunday she completed the journey, with Sindhu’s scalp. She had beaten an Olympic gold medallist, an Olympic silver medallist and an Olympic bronze medallist on successive days to deservingly win the World title.
Updated Date: Aug 28, 2017 19:09:27 IST