(This is a mildly edited version of my column for Scroll published on August 29)
Epics often have commonplace beginnings. The one on Sunday (August 27) at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, begins with a low PV Sindhu serve – the most common start to a point, badminton’s version of e4. Nozomi Okuhara responds with a wristy forehand lift to mid-court – and with that begins a battle for space, for domination, with the score favoring Sindhu 21-20 and game-point hanging on the outcome.
Metaphorists routinely twin sport with war. At the core of any battle plan is control of strategically vital space – which for a badminton player is an area about two feet in diameter and about ten feet back from the net. It is the centre of her half of the court, the place from which she can best cover all corners with equal felicity. It is the badminton player’s safe space.
In the early exchanges, Okuhara tries to push Sindhu to the far corner on the backhand side. It is a ploy the Japanese star has used repeatedly to trouble her opponent, but this time Sindhu takes the shuttle early with a round-the-head forehand clear deep into Okuhara territory. The two trade six shots apiece, with neither being able to push the other out of her safe space. From somewhere in the packed stands, a fan bangs his noise-maker in time to the strokes, a percussive underpinning to the whistle of racquet cleaving air and the ping of shuttle off the strings.