The bombshell word ‘retirement’ was spoken by TAI tzu Ying about a year ago and a shudder passed through her millions of fans. Seven months into lockdown with no big tournament since YAE I’m beginning to understand what the badminton landscape will look like without this extraordinary player and I don’t like it. Jaw dropping visionary play blended with virtuoso racket skills is a mix made in badminton heaven so a tournament without the chance to witness a reverse slice straight backhand drop executed by the Queen suddenly loses a little glitter.
In her most recent interview on Badminton Unlimited TTY offers some reassurance to her supporters. She is certain that she will continue to compete until next season ends and then she will mull over her options. This means that we can enjoy the anticipation of watching her participate in her third Olympics. I would love to see her on that podium in Japan, alongside some of my other favourites like Ratchanok, Nozomi or Akane. Imagine a Gold medal match between May and Tzu Ying; this would be a version of paradise for me and lots of other fans.
Coach Lai has been smart in keeping training fresh. TTY has mentioned before that she doesn’t go out ‘much’. Pictures on Instagram frequently show her enjoying being outdoors and I’ve often joked that she should work for the Taiwan tourist board when she retires. The beautiful scenery around her gives a spectacular backdrop to a bike ride or hike with her training partners. Without the intensity of a jam-packed tournament calendar she should be able to address any niggling injuries, and enjoy a fitness programme with an altered aim. I think that the focus will have been adjusted because she will not have to be on a (literal and metaphorical) treadmill to get prepared for next week’s match. This is why we have seen her enjoying cross training and sports like beach football and boxing. The emphasis on agility and flexibility remains but there will be interesting cross-fertilisation from other sports. It’s a good time to review technique and strategies but most of all this is a chance to emotionally refresh and rest intelligently.
The playing career of an elite player is really quite short. Movement has to be explosive with instant changes in direction and this can trigger severe pressure on knees and arms. Press conferences after finals are often conducted with the winners pressing ice-packs to their shoulders. The emotional cost of competition can be challenging too; stepping onto court with the hopes of your nation upon your shoulders is not easy; especially when supporters don’t see the hours of sweat in training. Added to this are the constant demands of the tournament schedule: international travel may seem glamourous but an endless landscape of airports and hotels can quickly dull the excitement.
We have three tournaments planned for Thailand in January 2021 with exacting covid protocols insisted upon by the Thai authorities. Quarantines, regular swab tests and temperature checks blended with stringent hygiene requirements and social bubbles should give reassurance to many but perception of risk is diverse. It’s impossible to predict where we will be in the trajectory of this pandemic by then.
Covid has annihilated the tournament schedule and it has given many athletes time to pause and reflect on their career path. The motivation to train without a reason is hard to maintain so it is reassuring to see that Tai Tzu Ying can still get up early in the morning, leave her house at 7am and start training at 8.30. This is the mark of a true champion. The players who can keep their enthusiasm and focus amidst the crisis will be the ones who return stronger. I long to watch her next game.
If you enjoyed this here is a link to my review of TTY’s performance at Taiwan’s Mock Olympics https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/08/03/tai-tzu-ying-and-taiwans-mock-tokyo-olympics/ and this one about her recent acquisition of patience https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2020/06/19/tai-tzu-ying-the-greatest/
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