A careful study of Carolina Marin's career path throws up the inescapable conclusion that the feisty 25-year-old Spaniard times her training efforts in such a way that she peaks at exactly the right time in important tournaments.
Hard evidence of this trait was on hand in Nanjing, when the two-time former world badminton champion (in 2014 and 2015) and 2016 Rio Olympics queen pocketed her third World Championship crown at the expense of Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the tall Indian player she had beaten in the gold medal clash in Rio, two years back.
Compared to the tense 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 margin at Brazil, Marin's triumph in China on Sunday took just 46 minutes, and left the 'perennial bridesmaid' distraught at the wrong end of a 21-19, 21-10 scoreline. In Rio, Sindhu's backers had been hopeful all the way to the end that their girl could turn the tables on her formidable adversary; but in Nanjing, even her most ardent supporter had given up hope by the mid-game lemon break in the second stanza.
Marin was just too fast, too mentally strong and too focused for the 23-year-old Sindhu to harbour any hope of leaving her own indelible impress on the match.
In last year's World Championship final in Glasgow, the eventual result could not be predicted until the very last point had been played at the end of the classic, 110-minute battle-royal against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara. In Nanjing, however, the finish-line was in Marin's sights long before Sindhu had even rounded the bend, to use athletics parlance.
No doubt the physical and emotional strain of taking on the two top Japanese women, Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, one after the other; and acing them both in straight games, undoubtedly told on the Indian, and left her defenceless, one she surrendered the 15-11 lead she had built up in the opening stanza.
The moment Marin closed the gap, restored parity at 15-all, and then went ahead, the fight slowly drained out of Sindhu like a bathtub from which the plug has been pulled. She had absolutely nothing left to offer in the second stanza. As Marin's manic screams, artfully designed to demoralise the opponent, gained steadily in decibel levels, Sindhu's occasional yelp of self-encouragement was drowned out in the maelstrom of noise.
The result took Marin's tally over Sindhu in head-to-head meetings to 7-6, with an equal number of three wins and as many losses since the Rio Olympics in August 2016. The tragedy that the statistics throws up is that the Spaniard has won the duels that really count, even if she has ended up second-best in the less important competitions.
One could say that the 2018 World Championship gold was, figuratively speaking, a paean of praise for the remarkable comeback that Marin has made, after her entire 2017 season was ruined due to intermittent injury and poor form, while Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu Ying lorded it over the entire female field.
No less remarkable was the comeback that Japan's Kento Momota has staged, after spending a year between April 2016 and April 2017 in the wilderness, after he was banned for his ill-advised gambling forays in a casino, against the express instructions of his country's badminton association. His charge back to the top of the charts was underscored by his magnificent 21-11, 21-13 victory on Sunday over reigning All England champion and local favourite, Shi Yuqi.
Currently ranked seventh in the world, and seeded sixth in this World Championship, the super-fit 23-year-old Momota was widely expected to contest the final, if not actually win it. Installing him as the pre-tournament dark horse of the men's singles event in this competition was a no-brainer; and he simply went one better by pocketing the gold.
Having been among the top five players in the world prior to April 2016, Momota suffered the ignominy of falling out of the top 250 in the world, and needing to claw his way back by playing Level-III Challenger and below tournaments. But his talent would simply not be denied, and within a year of launching his comeback, he was back among the top 30, gaining automatic entry to all the Level-1 tournaments on the World Tour.
On Sunday, he was, like Marin, simply too fast, durable and mentally strong for Shi, conqueror of two of his legendary compatriots, Lin Dan and Chen Long, with seven World Championship titles between them, in his earlier rounds. Possibly, like Sindhu, Shi had exhausted most of his physical and almost all of his mental reserves while downing his two childhood idols in the quarter and semi-finals.
On this performance, and with the kind of motivation he has demonstrated in the past year, Momota will have installed himself as the firm favourite for the Olympic gold, when the Games come calling in his home country, two years from now. Unless he is laid low by injury, betting men would need to look no further than Kento Momota for the gold in Tokyo 2020.
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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2018 23:09:54 IST