Carolina Marin doesn’t hide her surprise at how welcome she feels in India. After all, as she notes, she’d denied India an Olympic gold in 2016. A day before the start of the YONEX SUNRISE India Open 2023, Marin appeared happy to return to a place where her friend and on-court rival enjoys dizzying celebrity status.
“I feel happy to be here. I know maybe most of you can hate me because I beat your player (Pusarla V Sindhu in the Olympic final). But this is how sport is. We have a really lovely relationship off the court… I think already everyone knows, but if not, I will say it again. I love this country. I love to stay and play here.”
The Rio Olympic final was over six years ago, but Marin has an inextricable relationship with Indian audiences, given her ongoing, high-profile rivalry with home heartthrob Pusarla, and her frequent appearances in the Premier Badminton League.
At their lone India Open clash, Pusarla got the better of Marin in the 2017 final, providing the Indian some measure of revenge for the Rio loss.
They ran into each other at last week’s Malaysia Open; Marin won the hour-long battle in three games, giving the Spaniard a 10-5 career record over the Indian.
Yet, history wasn’t of immediate concern to either player. Both referred to the support of the fans, who were conspicuous by their absence last year due to COVID-19 regulations.
“Last year, due to the pandemic, we couldn’t see a lot of crowd up there,” said Pusarla. “This time, I’m sure it’s going to be exciting. I’m really looking forward to it. There are a lot of memories with the India Open, and there are a lot of matches I’ve won and lost. And of course, my friend Carolina, we played together here. They were really, really good matches. The crowd was always very favourable and very supportive all the time. When we enter the court, that cheering, that feeling is completely different. So I hope that even this time, we will hear the cheering. And that there will be a lot of fans who come and cheer for us. I think it’s going to be a big show.”
Both have had recent injury setbacks and are on the trail to finding their best form. Marin, unseeded, faces Nozomi Okuhara in her opener while fifth seed Pusarla takes on Supanida Katethong. Should they progress through the draw, they will meet in the semifinal.
“I couldn’t come last year because I broke my knee before the Tokyo Olympic Games,” said Marin. ”It’s my pleasure to be here. I think for India it’s going to be a really good week. We want to do our best. I have a tough match in the first round. I’m really looking forward to also feel the spectators and to feel the support from the crowd.”