A new year and a new start began for the newly crowned Yonex Thailand Open singles victors, Carolina Marin and Viktor Axelsen. Both the shuttlers had their fair share of struggles to overcome before winning the tournament on Sunday.
Marin had spoken about beginning the year with a clean slate. The Spaniard went through a rough period with her father’s unfortunate demise last year, going seven tournaments without a title and the disruption caused by the pandemic. Yonex Thailand Open was an opportunity for her to start afresh and like all great champions the Rio gold medallist was able translate her ambition into reality.
Thailand Open was the first tournament for Axelsen after his All England victory. His win in Thailand was expected but the validation was important for the Danish player.
“I wasn’t good with myself”
Back in October last year, Carolina Marin looked tentative as she put up an error-ridden play at the Denamark Open. However, in Thailand her game transformed into one of assertiveness, infallible confidence and of course her stock assets – speed, power, precision. There was a spring in her steps as she shone on court.
This could have been a tricky draw for Marin but she aced the challenge in style. After her first round win she faced four opponents who had beaten her at least once. Pornpawee Chochuwang had produced an upset when she beat Marin on her own home turf last February. Supanida Katethong had faced her during Marin’s comeback tournament in Vietnam in 2019. An Se Young had vanquished Marin at the French Open in the following month. Her final opponent, Tai Tzu Ying held a 9-6 career record against her.
“I wasn’t good with myself, because my father passed away a few months ago,” Marin recalled her previous season. “But two months ago I started again, I tried to keep talking with my team, my trainer, my psychologist, about what I really want, and for these three tournaments I wanted to enjoy again, because I really missed competition and just tried to do what I have trained for,” she said.
“I think sometimes you just need to earn some confidence with yourself. Also, the one thing that I just wanted to do here is to just try to enjoy, to be on court and to play some good games… I feel really happy that I could change my mind from last year; I had a difficult year personally in 2020, but I recovered well and my mind should decide what I want for the future, whether it’s the Olympics or World Championships,” she added.
“I was a little bit in a weird situation coming into this tournament”
Viktor Axelsen had been out of competitive badminton after he won All England in March last year. Since then, he sustained an ankle injury which forced him to skip Denmark Open at home. His daughter, Vega, was born in October.
His victory at the Thailand Open was expected but the validation was important for the Danish shuttler. “Having not played for so long, I’m really happy that I managed to win this match,” he said.
“I was a little bit in a weird situation coming into this tournament, many things have happened since I played last. Surgery to my ankle, birth of our daughter, so I’ve been training as hard as I could, but I really didn’t know where I was, playing-wise. So I’m proud and happy that I managed to win this tournament, because it’s not easy against such good opponents,” he added.
With the conclusion of Thailand Open, the first tournament of a new-look season ended successfully. The badminton world can now look ahead with excitement at the two remaining events in the Asian leg and the rest of the season. The protocols under which the Asian Leg is being held herald the new normal for the foreseeable future. The safety measures were comprehensive and extended on to on-court gestures, such as avoiding the customary handshake, and into the prize presentation.
A few players had initially voiced their reservations against such stringent protocols regarding practice time and food during quarantine. But over the course of the week all of them had grown increasingly supportive of the need for strict measures.
Two of the winners, Carolina Marin and Greysia Polii, remembered to thank the organisers after they had won their titles. “Thank you very much to BWF and to Thailand and all the organisers,” Marin said. “Thanks to them we could start to play tournaments in this difficult time,” while Polii voiced a note of optimism for the future, hoping that the worst of the pandemic would be behind us soon,” she added.