Carolina Marin has lost count of the number of times she has watched her Olympic gold medal-winning moment on YouTube. And she's still waking up to the fame that has followed her Rio glory. "My life has changed a lot," she says, exhausted after an hour-long practice session. "In Spain everyone recognizes me now. People want to follow badminton, and follow me on social media. It's a great feeling."
With her Rio gold and two World Championship title wins in the past three years, Marin has also played a huge part in storming what was a Chinese fief for a long time. "Yes, I think the Chinese domination is coming to a close," she says. "We've so many players from other countries in the reckoning now. China has some really good players though and I hope our dominance over the Chinese can continue for a long time."
Marin's loud screams after each point are a stark contrast to the undemonstrative, unemotional and clinical modus operandi of Chinese players. "That's my character," she says. "That's how I am. It gives me power and confidence on court. Some people say they like my screams. Sometimes I've to control it, but I think it's a way for me of telling opponents that they don't stand a chance against me."
Some years ago her coach, Fernando Rivas, had invited three-time All England champion Tina Baun -- best known for her staggering success against Chinese players -- to Madrid for a couple of sessions with Marin and other Spanish players. The first such was a week-long session in 2014. Baun, who is from Denmark, was a little-known No. 16-ranked player before she went on to top the rankings in 2008. That was the kind of inspiration Rivas was looking for, for Marin. And it worked: Marin became world No. 1 for the first time in June 2015, a year after Baun's first visit.
Ahead of the Rio Olympics, Baun -- who also won the World Championship in 2010 and three European Championship titles -- had another session with Marin. "Interacting and training with Tina before the Games was really helpful," says Marin. "She spoke to me about her own big-tournament experiences and there was a lot I could learn from it."
Marin also benefitted from Rivas' early use of technology for analyzing her game as well as that of her opponents. Exposure to video analysis at the age of 14, for instance, allowed her understand her own approach better, foresee match situations and learn to take independent decisions on court.
Turning out for Hyderabad Hunters at the Premier Badminton League (PBL), Marin's face-off against her Olympic final opponent PV Sindhu on Sunday is easily the most-awaited encounter of the tournament. "Sindhu and I get along really well," she says. "It's always a challenge for me to play her and I enjoy it every bit."
Marin also wants to achieve some definite goals in the future. "I want to win it [Olympic gold] again," she says. "I set myself goals for every season and think of it every day while at practice. I've the All England, European Championship and this year's World Championship titles on my mind next."
Post-Olympics, Marin has been unable to replicate her top form. She hasn't fared too well since her thigh injury at the Denmark Open in October and even lost her No 1 spot in the rankings. "When you push your body to the limit, you expose it to injuries," says Rivas. "She hasn't been able to train properly for three months after the Olympics. In fact she couldn't complete training even for one full week. That's the reason her results haven't been great after Rio."
Admitting that she has not being fully fit, Marin talks about recovering and regaining her Olympic form with a tinge of apprehension. "At the Olympics if you asked me, I could say with little doubt that I was the fittest player," she says. "But my performances after the Olympics haven't been too good. I don't know when I can get back to that form."
She's also looking to overcome her habit of winning and losing points at a stretch -- or "everything happens on her half of the court", as Rivas jokingly describes it. This could be an immediate challenge for her in the PBL, which follows an 11-point format. "This will be my first experience of playing in this format and I think it'll be really tough because you've to be focused from the beginning of the match," she says. "You've to concentrate on every point because it could be difficult to get back once you lose a couple of points."
Despite injuries and her recent average performances, Marin is not short of self-belief as she gets ready to play her first tournament of the year. "I know I can beat everyone if I play my best," she says before a flush of pride rises to her cheeks at the mention of the 'Girl Nadal' epithet. "I love that nickname."