As a part of the the Superseries Badminton Tournament, this week matches were staged in Seoul, South Korea, which itself is witnessing a match of another kind-matching of wits and between North Korea on one side and Japan, USA and South Korea on the other, BY Sushil Kumar.
Thee mental games were played and both sides are on edge as to who will blink first.
This week also saw two sides of Indo-Japan relationship: Prime Ministers of both countries launched a bullet train project and embraced each other and countries into greater friendship; on other hand, P.V. Sindhu shook Nozomi Okhuhara’s hands after winning the Korea Super Series in yet another great badminton match. One way, it avenged the defeat suffered by Sindhu by Okhuhara’s at last month’s match at Glasgow, where they played the longest ever match in a World Championship Match (please read my article on this on okhlatimes too).
With this victory their badminton rivalry is renewed and is increasingly being compared to great rivalries that riveted millions – of Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan in current times and Lim Swie King and Prakash Padukone in the yore. Their continuing victories, in a way, is causing great discomfort to the dominance of China, both in literal and figurative sense.
It was the first time that an Indian had won a Superseries tournament in Korea and even in men side, it was after twenty years that an Indonesian had won a title there. And both men and women champions are twenty-two years old.
Though both Sindhu and Nozomi Okuhara bring different physical types in play but they display more similarities than contrasts in play. Both display a tremendous display of will power and never ever give up fighting attitude on court as witnessed at the longest rally and the longest match in any world championship match (Glasgow – 110 minutes); both have tremendous talent and skills and seem gifted to play as natural players. While Okuhara has tremendous skills to retrieve any shuttle cock thrown on her side of the court much like Michael Chang and Nadal do in tennis and Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan do in Badminton ; Sindhu on her part can also retrieve the shots similarly due to her long strides and reach ; both players play the game of wearing the opponents down through long rallies involving shots on both sides of flanks , fore and back court and drop shots and instinctively avoid the fly in air smashes typical of players of their stature. While one is benefitted with having lower centre of gravity allowing quick turns and twists allowing complete coverage of court, the other is benefitted by long strides and limbs giving bigger wing span to cover flanks easily even though bending to retrieve is little tougher. In other words, the natural advantage of one is compensated by another advantage by another. While the Okuhara resorts to self-motivation through mumbling of motivational mantras and auto suggestion openly, Sindhu seems to soak in the silence and stares and fist tightening. While Okuhara often mumbles and smiles after faltering, Sindhu shows stoicism and stares silently. Okuhara showed little cracks in her cool demeanour when she knocked her racket hard on court three times after losing at critical juncture.
Sindhu is getting better each year with greater speed and is becoming like Sindhu or Indus, a mighty sub continental river that will challenge all obstacles on the way.
The first that ended with Sindhu scraping through to win at 22-20 was heading in Okuhara side when she led and had two game points at 20-18 but some uncharacteristic failed drops shots at net by Okuhara and some intelligent play swung the game in Sindhu’s favour. In second set Okuhara avoided the long rallies. The strain of first set showed on Sindhu in second set and series of errors specially on smashes and weary court coverage led to Okuhara winning 21-11 despite the game witnessing longest rally (56 shots) that saw Sindhu flat on her back and Okuhara doubling up bringing images of Glasgow match. The third set was a see saw battle that saw Okuhara starting well but Sindhu clawed back slowly and had five shot advantage at mid stage and despite last minute tremendous fight back by Okuhara, Sindhu won the match. In this match the slowing down of Sindhu by deceptive drop shots at the net didn’t work for Okuhara; perhaps Gopi analysed the tapes and worked on this aspect and this showed in Sindhu’s improved capacity to retrieve and reply at the net; infact her confidence caused some errors on net by Okuhara. Sindhu won 21-18 and when the final shot was sailing on the left side of Sindhu she hardly had energy left to even pretending to rush for run for retrieval and barely had energy to raise her arms in victory and tighten her fists as she does on exultation. Okuhara would not grudge the victory of Sindhu knowing that they are evenly matched in talent and tremendous capacity to try and try to transcend testy limits of endurance and will.
Maybe, the Asian dominance in badminton may have something to Asian predilection for philosophical principle putting primacy of mind over matter. Though all sports require perfect balance of matter or physical attributes as well as use of mental dimensions like strategy or planning, but badminton due to high intensity and 360 reflexes capacity needs more mind than matter aspects. But then even Scandinavian countries have dominated this sport too. So, nothing final can be said but one should explore reasons as to why and how Badminton has become a super sport in Asia and not in the West.Is it the money, honey?