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SINDHU VS OKUHARA: GREAT ASIAN CLASSIC

One thing is absolutely certain: now whenever P.V. Sindhu and Nozomi Okuhara look at the looking glass, their images will show an unmistakable glow after Glasgow; their self-image show an eternal shine and may even have early traces of a halo for history, BY Sushil Kumar.

After all, these two Asian girls, of twenty-two, gave a Gladiatorial game that will glorify and gravitategirls to badminton. Their contest made badminton, a poor cousin of tennis, a breath taking spectacle of a spectator sport. Women badminton was waiting for such a breathtaking contest and one is sure that now its unique selling proposition will yield phenomenal profits similar to contests of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. And if there was any doubt amongst naysayers about gender equality in pay-packets in sports, the edge of seat excitement and uninterrupted adrenalin flow of Okuhara and Sindhu’s match settled it once for all. Comparatively speaking, the thrill and excitement of the match was no less than produced by matches between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei or between Nadal and Djokovic or between Nadal and Federer.

In the final of OTAL BWF World Championship match, Okuhara overwhelmed Sindhu 21-19,20-22,22-20 in a thrilling three games that lasted one hour forty-nine minutes. It was a marathon match that tested all physical, mental, spiritual dimensions of the sport. It was the second longest ladies’ badminton singles match that fell short by only a minute; and incidentally Okuhara happened to be part of that one too when she beat China’s Shixian Wang in Malaysia in 2011.

As anticipated in economic thought, the match symbolized an early onset of Asian domination in this century even in worldwide sports; a trend that began with China standing equal to Western nations in Beijing Olympics. It’s not that Asian players haven’t earned glory in badminton in the past but that they are battling within themselves now whereas earlier they mostlybattled Scandinavian or European countries- be it Prakash Padukone or Lim Swie King who competed against Danish or Swedish players.

Looked closely, the match basically signified the battle of ‘One’ : (i) it was the one time that a Japanese or an Indian woman would win the World Championship (ii) both India and Japan have population hovering around one- one in excess of a billion and another in excess of one hundred million and both waiting with bated breath to welcome the new champion(iii) In India, badminton is fast becoming a premier sport after cricket with Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and others challenging world’s superpowers when just three decades ago names like Thomas Cup and Uber Cup were totally unknown (iv) Earlier Saina Nehwal had become world number one and now Sindhu is on way of becoming another one from India (v) it was one minute short of the longest match ever played in women singles (vi) it was match after which one billion bowed in admiration for fulfilling a nation’s craving for achieving world class excellence in sports and for another one who bowed before and after victory in humility and grace (vii) it was a match that led to one country falling short by one shot and one country becoming champion by one shot (viii) it would also be a match where one player participated in this match as well as the longest singles women’s match.

Prakash Padukone has already called it as one of the greatest match involving any male or female Indian sportsperson. There is no doubt about that; there was hardly anything apparent to separate one from the other in terms of skills, court craft, court coverage, stamina, endurance and never say die attitude. In fact, during the last moments of last game, it was almost like one counterpunching punch for punch (much like last games of Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer or Nadal and Djokovic in Australian Open)that ended as finish line came along to stop crossing the swords and one had to be declared a winner. The essence and spirit of the match could be seen the still photograph taken after the 73 shot rally that had Okuhara on the floor on one side and Sindhu doubling up while still standing, with the shuttle cock and rackets on the floor and none looking at the other or anything else. That is surely going to become an iconic image of the match.

Even at Rio Olympics, the exchange between Okuhara and Sindhu lasted 39 shots though this exchange was bettered in final between Marin and Sindhu. If one had to seek some answers for success, one could attribute these Okuhara having an extra ounce of energy perhaps due to smaller frame facilitating easier oxygenation through blood supply than longer distance needed to be traversed by long limbed Sindhu. Okuhara ended as a last woman standing in a shuttle shootout spluttering sweat not blood and ending up with guts and glory. One must not forget that she battled three games in all her last matches and still came out on tops and that speaks volumes about her fitness and preparation. Okuhara displayed Lee Chong Wei’s mastery in returning every shot thrown at him much like Michael Chang used to do in tennis. Sindhu came into the match brimming with confidence of having three all match record against Okuhara and this showed in her building five points plus lead in two games but Okuhara displayed great survival and come from behind catch up mind-set each time she was down.

In first two games, Okuhara showed tremendous resolve to return from gaps of five to seven points. Besides the record 73 shot rally in second game, she also exchanged two rallies of fifty plus shots. One doesn’t know whether it was the Zen prayer that Okuhara mumbled while entering the court contest that gave her the edge. Her bowing to the court before the contest and not to the contestant was distinct and is similar to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon practice of bowing to opponent as well to others.

One recommends an interactive session on fitness regimen between Sindhu and Virat Kohli as latter would surely share tips on how to carry on in crunch conditions and coming cramps. It is evident that Okuhara took lessons from her loss to Sindhu during semi- final in Rio and in Singapore this year to improve and strategise. Hope Sindhu also learns her lessons in vanquishing her in future;after all the game is about lessons- taken from matches and coaches.

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