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PV Sindhu's capitulation to Carolina Marin a worry with Tokyo Olympics in sight

File photo: PV Sindhu after her loss to Carolina Marin in the 2018 BWF World Championships. VCG

Thirty-five minutes after it started, there was almost a sense of mercy when it was over. Carolina Marin contemptuously reverse flicked a backhand crosscourt net winner to PV Sindhu's forehand with the Indian stranded wrongfooted in the other half of the court. While Marin waved at the TV cameras, having won the women's title at the Swiss Open in Basel on Sunday, Sindhu quietly stuffed her kitbag in the corner of the frame. The Indian wouldn't have wanted to glance at the electronic scoreboard behind her -- 21-12, 21-5 would have made for painful viewing.

Single-point games are a rarity in international badminton, especially if it is between two elite opponents and certainly if you are the reigning world champion, as Sindhu is. And while one might not think so, it could even be argued Sindhu got off better than she might have. Of the five points in her favour in the second game, just one -- which made it a still acceptable 2-6 at that stage -- came off her own racquet. The remainder were errors from Marin made even while she was putting the boot in, striking winners at will.

It's probably just as well that the match ended when it did. Sindhu never seemed to find a groove or any sort of momentum herself -- racquet strings broke, when they didn't they were replaced anyway because they didn't 'feel' right. Shuttles that were called long turned out to have landed smack in the middle of the tramline.

It was the opposite for the Spaniard. One certainty about Marin's playing style is that once she finds a bit of confidence, she builds on it to the point that opponents are overwhelmed by a barrage of winners, each punctuated by a piercing shriek of triumph. As the match progressed, it became clear that Sindhu wasn't mounting any comeback in the first game. And once she shifted to the other side of the court, with a wicked drift adding to her woes, that she wasn't even going to pull the scoreline back to any sort of respectability.

For Marin, the victory secured her third title out of four she's entered this year. Sindhu, meanwhile, will find herself facing more questions to answer than she might have thought prior to Sunday evening. A close loss would mean there are technical issues to figure out. A comprehensive defeat such as this is more challenging. The Indian was outplayed at the net, in the frontcourt and couldn't match the Spaniard's pace, either. Following the Asia leg of tournaments, she had been training alongside coach Park Tae Sang at Hyderabad's Gachibowli stadium to simulate Tokyo-like conditions. Earlier she'd gone to England to work on her physicality. Indian fans must hope Sindhu's result on Sunday was an aberration for the alternative would be even more of a worry.

This being an Olympic year, every performance will be seen through the prism of the Tokyo Games. Marin, the reigning champion, knows she is the player to beat, and carries a huge target on her back. Although she's in ominous form, there have been a few moments where her opponents might have felt they could draw hope from. Tai Tzu Ying beat her in the final of the World Tour Finals while upcoming South Korean An Se Young upset her in the group stage. A Sindhu win in Basel (which would have been the first for her over Marin since the Malaysian Open in June 2018) might have dented the confidence of the three-time World Champion, if only a little bit, and planted a little seed of doubt that would (hopefully, for her opponents) germinate when it mattered most in Tokyo.

As it turns out, it is the Indian who will want to erase the memories of Sunday's defeat as quickly as possible. The ninth loss of her career to Marin was easily the most one-sided, and the shortest, in encounters between the two. It's unlikely Sindhu has suffered a worse defeat in her professional career. Any positives for the Indian, who was after all making her first final of the season, would seem to pale in the aftermath of the debacle of the final.

The last time Sindhu played a final at Basel's St. Jakobshalle Stadium, she'd delivered one of the most dominating performances of her professional career, limiting Nozomi Okuhara to seven points in both games as she claimed her first World title in 2019. That career-defining victory came with a caveat though - it had been won in the absence of Marin, who'd been recovering from a serious knee injury. Just how would Sindhu have fared had she been playing Marin then? Not very well, if you were to go by Sunday's result.