Wow – we were treated to a dazzling match for the WS title at the Denmark Open this evening.
“I’m happy! Long time no see for a title! Compared to other opponents, Marin is faster and has a harder attack. I was focussed on defence and footwork, and my feet moved very well today. Overall the match went well for me.” – Nozomi Okuhara via BWF media service
This was set up to be a thriller right from the start: Carolina V Nozomi is Attack v Defence and Noise v Calm. A nail-biting encounter was in prospect, a match to showcase all that is wonderful about this generation of Women players. Both have been World #1, and both were Olympic medallists in Rio. Outstanding quality that has been waiting months to get on a court.
In many ways this tournament has been an opportunity for both players to push the reset button. Carolina successfully returned from her cruciate ligament injury but has suffered some personal tragedy over the past months. Nozomi had a bittersweet 2019 where she gave consistently high-quality performances but was not able to close out championship matches; she ended up with too many silver medals.
Okuhara’s path to the final – consistent straight set wins in every round – suggested she was on a mission. Marin’s progress was no less impressive: Bei Wen ZHANG took a set off her in their Quarter Final but the Spaniard has such high fitness that it would not have dented her energy levels.
Set 1 Carolina Wins The Toss
Right from the start it was clear that these two competitors emphatically did not spend lockdown watching tv from their sofa. Fabulous, high tempo badminton with both players giving everything for every point. Okuhara was in great form. The Japanese player was using her big defensive clears to put Marin under huge pressure. Of course, her game was far more nuanced than this. Her court coverage was superhuman, her snappy reflexes and great technique meant that although she wasn’t hitting outright winners her strategy was getting points on the board. Marin was hitting good shots but was being frustrated over and over again. Although she won the toss, and chose the ‘best’ end Carolina lost the first set 21-19.
Set 2 Silver or Gold?
Both players continued to push each other to play sparkling badminton. The tension was growing. Carolina had to get back into the game and she knew the pattern in 2019 from Nozomi was silver, silver, silver. What could be done? At 4-3 there was an exchange between the two of them which highlighted Okuhara’s hunger and desire. An exchange over the net, superb anticipation and a venomous reply taking the score to 5-3. The BWF commentary team pointed out that Marin was not her usual self between points, she was not hustling the pace along as normal. Did she have a worry about her stamina after so many months away from the tour? Nozomi continued to screw down the pressure and Marin was becoming more exasperated. Whatever she threw at her rival was coming back at her. Her only options seemed to be to try and go for the margins but this high risk strategy gave rise to more lost points. The title was moving out of her grasp until we came to 20-15 to Okuhara. Match points. Danger zone for both players. 16-20 one point saved with a savage smash; 17-20 another point saved after a long rally. Then Nozomi launched an attacked on Carolina’s backhand, moving her forward and back until it culminated in a title winning smash. Game!
A magnificent encounter that highlighted everything to love about women’s singles. Two brilliant players who went all-out for the title. Congratulations to Nozomi and commiserations to Carolina. What a time to follow women’s badminton!
If you enjoyed this take a look at my recent article about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/05/15/nozomi-okuhara/
Thank you to all the players, officials and volunteers whose hard work has enabled this tournament to proceed.
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