To all the sports fan out there who admire badminton ace Nozumi Okuhara or feel proud over PV Sindhu, have you ever seen them play live? Gone to a stadium? Watch them fight as if your life is on the line?
Yesterday, it might have been a 47-minute match in the Japan Open. But when you see them fighting, that pure determination to never give up. One bent down. The other fallen over. Exhausted. Then again get up. Look at the opponent. Breathe. Serve. Run. It’s not over.
For both PV Sindhu and Nozomi Okuhara, their rivalry has become more than just a badminton match. It started with the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when both these players met at the semi-final looking to seal the silver medal spot. Sindhu made it by beating Nozumi in a straight set game.
One year later, the scenario was completely different. As the duo met at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow for the finals to decide the best in the world, Okuhara was a changed athlete. But even when the Japan’s ace was at the top of her form, it was not an easy match with Nozumi’s lightning fast smashes and Sindhu’s equally fast returns. Or be it Sindhu’s forehand loops and Nozumi’s backhand placements. No one watching the match, be it in the stadium or glued to the TV, could say that one was better than the other. The game had transcended from just a simple act of hitting a shuttlecock. It was as bruising as a kabaddi match and tactical as chess.
Finally, the game ended after a 73-shot rally. Nozumi had taken her revenge.
By this time, both players had sent across a message that it’s not over yet. Federer losing to Nadal and Nadal losing to Federer. A similar rivalry had started.
To everyone’s surprise, no one including Sindhu and Nozumi had to wait long. Three weeks later, they were up against each other once again. This time again in a final. Again to see who is better. It was the Korea Open. Sindhu was determined. It was not any other opponent, but Okuhara. Sindhu was hitting the shuttle like a lion, Okuhara returning them as a wall on the other end. Another classic clash was on the cards. With at least five thirty shorts rally and a determination beyond words from both players, it was Sindhu who stood to hold the gold medal shining in her neck. Sindhu became the first Indian to win at the Korea Open.
Both were tied with four wins each. Fans across the globe couldn’t wait to watch these arch-rivals clash once more. As luck would have it, the duo met again in merely 10 days’ time. The occasion was Japan Open this time. By now, you must be thinking that these two might have got used to each other. They might know each other’s every move. But as the match started, we saw a similar scenario. A breathtaking match and pin drop silence in the stadium. Spectators moving their head from right to left and again left to right as the shuttle travelled. Although it was a hard-fought match with nothing less than this expected from the two shuttling geniuses, Okuhara with a home advantage got the better of Sindhu. It is 5-4 now. Okuhara leads with one more victory over Sindhu. But like in badminton, both Sindhu and Okuhara do not know what a finish line is. There is no whistle to be blown to end the rivalry and that’s the allure.