Come April, she just dropped one game in the five matches she played at the championship, that too against Denmark's Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt, to set the alarm bells ringing among other top players of the world, and rightly so. The disappointment of missing out on the opportunity to defend her Olympics title would still be there, but Marin has already started with a roar, which shows in her performance as well as words. "You all know me, and I always want to win," she had famously said upon her return.
Just before the injury setback, the Spaniard had won the Thailand Open Super 100 beating the current world no.1 Tai Tzu-Ying in straight games, and then followed it up with a win in the Toyota Thailand Open, a tournament of the same magnitude, and against the same opponent. Later on, in the World Tour Finals, she lost against Tai, but went on to pocket the Swiss Open and the European Championship, before she was finally grounded. This just goes on to show her complete dominance in women's singles ahead of the Olympics, which eventually did not happen for her.
In the one year, she was away from the game, nothing much has really changed, with regards to the top players on the circuit, except for the rankings; in fact, the top-10 consists of pretty much the same players with not many new names coming up since then. With Marin back in the fold now, it will be her battle with the old foes, and against many of which, she has a better head-to-head record. Against Japan's Yamaguchi, in the 13 matches played, Marin has won seven times, while against Okuhara she has won nine ties, and lost eight.
She also boasts of a terrific record against Tai, where she has lost 10 and won eight, and is the only player in the world who has managed to beat the Taipei girl consistently. When it comes to reigning Olympic champion Chen Yu Fei, Marin has won thrice and lost two times. One of the brightest prospects these days, South Korea's An Se-young has lost more often than not against the Spaniard; Marin leads 4-2 in head-to-head battles.
While her arrival would only mean fiercer competition in the women's singles, it might just not be the best-case scenario for the Indian players, going forward. For a long time, PV Sindhu has been the only player from the country to be able to really challenge her and beat her too. But Marin there too has a better record, winning nine matches and losing only six, most of them being big occasion clashes. Since the iconic 2016 Rio Olympics final, which the Indian lost, the duo has faced off five times, with Marin winning four of those matches, including the 2018 World Championship final.
While Sindhu is excellent at the net and in her defence, where Marin perhaps goes past her is her speed and deception. If after two knee surgeries, she can maintain the same form, or somehow manage to get better, the Indian badminton queen could be in for some trouble in the upcoming clashes, given that Marin is her true nemesis. Having said that, it could just be the right opportunity for Sindhu as well, to improve her record against the current world no.5, given that the latter will be a little more tentative with her footwork.
Unfortunately, there won't be much of a challenge for Marin, when it comes to other singles players in India. In fact, it would be fair to say that all players barring Sindhu will find it tough even to take a game off against her. Saina Nehwal, a former world number one, is way past her prime now and isn't the fittest anymore. Despite having a decent record against Marin, she would still find it difficult to match up with her rival from Spain. In their last meeting at the Malaysia Masters 2020, Marin showed no mercy to struggling Nehwal and won the quarters battle 21-8, 21-7.
There was a time, a few years back, when Nehwal would engage Marin in long rallies close to the net and score freely. The 2015 Syed Modi International final between the two is a classic example, where Nehwal played to her strengths, tired her opponent, and won 19-21, 25-23, 21-16. But all that is a thing of the past and unfortunately, it would be unfair to expect something similar from Nehwal again.
New age players like Ashmita Chaliha and Malvika Bansod, both southpaws like Marin, have a long way to go before they can actually upset the Spaniard. While these two Indian girls do possess the talent to perhaps get past Marin in the future, for now, they just don't seem to have enough in the tank, in both defense and attack. Fitness will also be key for them to be able to beat Marin, which cannot be labelled the best at the moment, and this is where Marin completely outscores them, despite her injury concerns lately. The latter is known to enjoy gruelling and unrelenting battles with players, and her celebratory grunts are enough to upset any player's momentum.
Now that she is finally back on the court, Marin would make sure she puts in the hard yards, to get some big wins under her belt. Upon return from a serious injury, she is as much of a threat, as she would be under normal circumstances. After her ACL tear in the right knee during a match against Nehwal in 2019, she returned strongly with a title win at China Open, against Tai, and there is no reason why things would be any different for her this time around as well.