What has gone wrong with Carolina Marin's career?

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© Getty Images

What has gone wrong with Carolina Marin's career?

no photo

Faizan Qadiri


While most teenagers were trying to figure out what to do with their lives, a 19-year-old Carolina Marin had the Olympic rings painfully tattooed on her wrist to remind her about her loss at the London games. Four years later, she achieved all she had dreamed of at the age of 14.

But, since the Rio Games, her fans have seen a player who has taken a fall from grace losing regularly to players who would have had a shiver run down their spine at the very thought of playing her just three months earlier. SO WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?

After a slow start to her career in 2014, Carolina Marin took the world of badminton by storm in 2015, but it was 2016 that saw her become an unstoppable force.

After winning the European and World Championship crowns in 2014, the Spaniard had had an incredible 2015 winning an astonishing six Superseries titles. She had a slow start to 2016 losing to Nozomi Okuhara in the semi-finals of the All England Open. However, she followed that up with a second=successive European Championship title to head into the Rio Olympics as one of the favorites for the gold medal with a record of 15 wins and four draws since the turn of the year. She made her way to the semi-final of the tournament without dropping a single game. However, she found herself up against India's PV Sindhu in the final – Sindhu won the first game in the gold medal match, but Marin rallied back to win the next two games to win her first Olympic gold.

I want to be Olympic, world and European champion and number one in the world

A 14-year-old Marin told her coach

A 14-year-old Marin had once told her coach Fernando Rivas that she intended to be the Olympic, World, and European champion along with becoming the number one ranked player in the world. Just nine years later, Marin reached the target that she had set out to achieve. However, having acquired the "big four", she has fallen well off her very best. Her post-Olympics record paints a very bleak picture as well. Forget winning a title, she has managed to win just eight of her 15 matches so far. In the ongoing Dubai World Superseries Finals, Marin managed to win only one game in three matches en route to being knocked out of the group stages of the competition. Earlier this month, she also conceded her title of World No. 1 to Taiwanese player Tai Tzu-Ying.

 © Getty Images

The Rio gold was not just a personal achievement for Marin, but it signaled a change in the dominance of the sport by Asian athletes - it was the first time since the Atlanta games that a European had won gold in the sport. Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen had won the medal beating China's Dong Jiong in 1996. Marin, although by appearance might not be pegged as a badminton player, has achieved success due to her excellence in mind games, exploitation of the current badminton rules that don't penalize players for slowing the tempo of the game down apart from the incredible talent that she obviously possesses.

Fernando Rivas has played a huge part in the success story that is Marin by introducing a certain European flavor in her game as well. “Practice sessions [in Spain] lacked tactical contents and the Chinese style was omnipresent. Badminton was considered a physical sport. Just to be clear and my words are not taken in the wrong way, I have nothing against the Chinese approach, and it works pretty well in China. I just say that we cannot import it since the culture, in general, is different and there is no tradition of badminton in Spain,” Rivas has said on record. He started video analysis for Marin when the player was just 15 and she has learnt how to play to the weaknesses of her opponents.

One more aspect of her game that no one can compete with is her mastery of gamesmanship. In typical European style, the Spaniard excels when it comes to mind games. In the Rio final, Marin played Sindhu, a player whose natural height and reach advantage was evident. After Sindhu won the first game by winning five straight points, Marin slowed the momentum of the game every time the Indian was on a roll. She strolled away to a corner of the court as her opponent waited eagerly for her return. I personally am a big fan of mind games and feel that more players should start using these kinds of techniques in order to win matches where they are struggling.

So what has resulted in this current slump that Marin finds herself in? It could be her lack of physicality that has seen her suffer injuries which eventually led to her downfall, although it is too soon to call a premature end to a great player's career. In the Denmark Open, she labored through the tournament with a thigh injury that eventually needed a medical time-out. The Spaniard returned to complete the game, and it was evident that she was struggling with her natural movement due to the heaving strapping on her left leg. While some might contest that this is based solely on speculation, there could be a very basic reason for her current run of form. She is tired! Plain and simple!

It's been a long season and I've been very tired.

Marin after her exit from the Hong Kong Open in November.

 However, complacency and having achieved her targets too early - at the age of 23 - also could be reasons. Marin set herself a target at the age of 14 and achieved it within nine years. One can understand complacency creeping into her system. As a 19-year-old when she crashed out of the 2012 games in London, Marin had a tattoo inscribed on her wrist to remind her of her aim to win the medal at the Games. That was the commitment of the player who was virtually unplayable till after the Olympics - the last part of her dream that was missing. But once she won that, it could just be a simple case of not being sure what the next challenge is.

This phenomena is not unheard of. Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho was one of the most devastating players to ever grace a football field. He was virtually unplayable for a period of 3-4 years and had already been named the best player in the World for two years running before he was even 26. But instead of going to the next level, he just wasted his talent away and returned to his native Brazil at the age of just 31. As a Marin fan myself, I would hate to see the Spaniard waste her talent because she just doesn't have that drive anymore. Being a Barcelona fan herself, she doesn't have to look that far for inspiration. Lionel Messi has been at the top of his game for quite a while now and even though he had a rough patch in 2013 and 2014, the Argentine returned to become the best player again the next season.

I have my objective clear. Every day I have woken up thinking about a [Olympic] medal and I lie in bed unable to sleep 

Marin said before the 2016 edition of the games

So what could be the next the challenge ahead of the 23-year-old? If we stick to badminton itself, the last decade has seen one of the greatest rivalries in the sport in the form of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. The duo pushed themselves to greater heights that ordinarily they might not have been able to reach. Marin has just lost her number one ranking to Tai Tzu-Ying, faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of Sindhu in Dubai, and has seen the rise of Sun Yu. If she can find it within herself to make rivals out of these players, she has a target that she will continue chasing for quite a while. Competition is the only challenge that she needs to set for herself and if she does it, Marin might not be a name that badminton fans will forget quickly.

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