The arena at CDM Gallur in Madrid went quiet just for a brief while, just before midnight Indian Standard Time. Indeed, 26 April was earmarked as a while for badminton fans in Spain and around the country: Carolina Marin was going to make her comeback after nearly a year out of the game. There was an air of expectation.
And the occasion did not disappoint. The crowd roared as Marin entered the court, dressed in blue after asking her fans the previous day what outfit she should be wearing. The claps and roars increased in volume as she placed her kit on the sidelines and soon reached a crescendo. “Caro-lina!” followed by claps. “Caro-lina!” followed by claps. Rinse and repeat, till the players settled down to warm up.
The match itself was a cakewalk for Spaniard as she defeated world No 124 Katerina Tomalova 21-10, 21-6 in just 30 minutes on court. But it was more than just about the result.
The last tournament Marin played was the 2021 European Championships, which she won in a canter at the start of the Olympic year when she was in irresistible form. She had won two of the three tournaments in Thailand, she won the Swiss Open before clinching the continental crown for the fifth time at the end of April-start of May. And then on 1 June came the announcement regarding surgery on her left knee that ruled her out of the Olympics... where she would have been the defending champion, and on form, the red-hot favourite to retain the crown.
It would have been, without an iota of doubt, a bitter pill to swallow for the superstar who had dreamed of making it back-to-back Olympic gold medals and was primed to do so as well. She is already a three-time World Champion and a successful defence at Tokyo would have only reiterated her position as one of the greatest modern-day shuttlers.
But instead, she was going to have to go through rehabilitation one more time, having made her return not so long back from a surgery to the right knee. And a stunning comeback at that.
Will she be able to do it again, was the question that was perhaps on the mind of many of her fans. But mostly her too, one can imagine.
A comeback at the 2021 Huelva World Championships would have been a fairy tale. Imagine playing the World Championships, that too on a comeback, at an arena that is named after you, in your hometown. It wasn’t to be, though, the dream tournament came too soon for Marin.
But for Marin, the comeback was always going to happen. Setbacks are part of the deal, and she has dealt with a fair share in her career. You just have to go back to the messages she posted after her last two knee surgeries. In 2019, she said it was “day one”. To already mark her calendar to return. In 2021, she said “Here starts a new journey.”
And the knee, is now “more than ready”, as he put it on her Instagram post ahead of the European Championships. While it is just one match so far, the fact that she is back on the court is something that is worth celebrating for followers of badminton around the world. Because at her best, there are few others who make the sport so thrilling.
At the end of her match on Tuesday night in Madrid, she took her time to acknowledge the fans in the arena who cheered for nearly every one of the 42 points she won.
“I cannot describe with words how I feel when I made my comeback on court today. It is always special to play at home, but it is even more so when it is my first match and my comeback here at home,” Marin was quoted as saying by Badminton Europe.
“I feel really happy to be back, I want to enjoy being on court, and that’s it. I just say to myself, get the victory today, and then one more tomorrow.”
On game point and match point, they clapped her along shot-by-shot. It was like a football atmosphere, where fans cheer every pass with ole. And Spain had their favourite badminton star back on court, roaring after points during the match and smiling at the end of it all.
It’s good to have you back, Carolina.
Update: On Saturday 30 April, Carolina Marin completed her comeback with a sixth European Championship title.