Carolina Marin let out a yelp of relief. Feverish comparisons had been laid to rest, for now. In what was billed a marquee clash, Hyderabad Hunters' Marin wrapped up a 11-8, 14-12,11-2 win over her Olympic final opponent PV Sindhu of Chennai Smashers in the Premier Badminton League (PBL) opener on Sunday.
This coming after her recent straight games defeat against the world No 6 Indian at the BWF World Super Series Finals in Dubai. Moving swiftly around the court, the Olympic gold medalist was nothing like her jaded self in Dubai two weeks ago. In the months following the Rio Games, Marin hasn't won a title or even made the final of a tournament.
Her bellicose game on Sunday, though, offered the No 6 ranked Indian little room to impose herself, as the crowd seemingly torn at times between rooting for their city and their star , kept the 'Hyderabad jeetaga' chants flowing loud and recurrent. Coming up trumps at the net, one that her coach Fernando Rivas spelt out as being the key to result of the match, Marin opened up a handy 9-6 lead. A Sindhu return that would find the net in the way allowed Marin to race away to a 1-0 lead. Teammate P Kashyap did the talking at the changeover as Sindhu nodded over quick gulps of water.
The fitness woes that Marin had been talking of till a day ago were nowhere to be seen. Or she camouflaged them incredibly well.
A race to 11 points turns the already fast sport, faster by a few more frames. The shots are a blur and before you've blinked twice a point has been won, the momentum has shifted and the match has changed complexion. Trailing 0-2 early on, Sindhu found her inner mongrel midway through to level matters at 5-5.Saving three match points thereafter, Sindhu mounted a remarkable comeback, a brilliant jump smash pushing affairs to a decider.
Neither of the teams, wary of the outcome, picked the Sindhu-Marin contest as their Trump match. Each team is allowed to pick one match in a tie as its Trump, basically one which they're willing to put their money on - a win offering a bonus point, a loss robbing them of a point.
Early into the third game, the crowd was treated to a tasty rally - red hot in pace - lasting all of 52 shots and ending in Marin's favour after Sindhu failed to ward off a body smash. That was pretty much the last glimpse the crowd had of Sindhu.
The rally pretty much summed up why both the players make for an engaging rivalry. Snarling aggro defining them, Sindhu with her booming, steep smashes and Marin scything her way through with some dead serious left hand pummeling - it almost led you to believe that even stopping to catch your breath while they're at it was being fanciful.
"Sindhu looked nervous and I just capitalized on it and pushed her further behind," a beaming Marin said after the match.
Falling rapidly behind, a Marin backhand pushed the Indian farther away from the possibility of a recovery. In another setting, this would have possibly spelt a stony silence in the stands. Not today. Soaked in enthusiasm, the crowds egged the home side on, as Sindhu faded away from the match.
The packed-to-the-rafters stands for a badminton league, crowds who not only turned up for a star clash but stayed on to cheer their side well into the night is heartening news for the sport. A medal is sometimes all that it takes.