It's one game all! Down but not out!
- Gillian Clark in the commentary box
37 is the 12th prime number. 73 is the 21st prime number. 21 is the number of points, with a minimum of 2 point difference, needed to win a game in badminton. It was 20-17 in the āndhra Amazon's favour. Win the next point and she will have levelled the tie 1-1. The petite girl from Ōmachi, whose stature belied her endless reserves of energy, duly won the next 3 points. The Amazon, the daughter of two volleyball players, arrested the slide to bring her 4th game point of the 2nd game. The match clock read 1:01. Sindhu served from the right side of the court to begin the 82nd point of the match.

The tenth shot of the rally was drop/smash by Nozomi that was dug out by the long reach of the 5'11" Sindhu, 8 seconds had elapsed. 21 shots later the diminutive Nipponese played another drop/smash, this time from the other side of the court. Sindhu got to it again. A full 30 seconds had passed since the point began. Nozomi arched her back like a bow to send the 42nd shot of the rally deep into the forehand side. Sindhu cocked her arm and ripped a cross-court smash. Okuhara swooped through. 

The point just refused to end. A heat map of the court would have shone in blood red. A scarcely believable 29 shots later, the 71st shot of the rally, Okuhara got a high, short response: an easy put away. But the punishing rally meant that she couldn't get enough power into the shot. Sindhu's wingspan was just enough to flick it back cross court. Nozomi got to it but her lack of wingspan led her to netting the return. 73 shots. 78 seconds. 1 point. Thrilla in Manila seemed positively tame. The point of match....the tournament...the year...ah @#$% it...the greatest point of all time! 

Down But Not Out!

Nozomi Okuhara was the 7th seed and P. V. Sindhu 4th. Both got byes in the round of 64. Sindhu's route to the final was a near breeze. After a straightforward win over Kim Hyo Min, she was made to sweat by Hong Kong's Cheung Ngan Yi for nearly an hour and a half, winning 19-21, 23-21, 21-17. Coming through such a tight encounter gave her great confidence and she used it to crush Chinese shuttlers back to back, 5th seed 6 foot Sun Yu and teenager Chen Yufei, who had upset no 1 seed Yamaguchi & the 2013 champion Intanon, losing just 23 points in each match.

Okuhara, on the other hand, had to sweat in almost every round. She needed 3 games in all but the round of 16 to reach the final. Even in the sole straight games win she had to win the 1st game 22-20, needing 3 game points against compatriot Aya Ohori. Her last 8 opponent was Carolina Marin, who was effectively a 3 time (2014-15 world champion & 2016 Rio gold medallist) defending champion. Okuhara needed 93 minutes to outlast the Screaming Spaniard. Her last four opponent was India's Saina Nehwal. Saina's dreams of reaching a 2nd final in 3 years were dashed when the Nipponese won from a game down & 17-17 in the 2nd game.

Sindhu had spent 41 minutes, nearly one full match, less than Nozomi on court. The head to head was 3-3 and Sindhu had won their last two meetings, including a historic semifinal win at the Rio Olympics. From 3-5 down, Sindhu won 8 straight points to go with a 5 point advantage at the mid-game interval. The break came at the right time for Nozomi and she slowly starting chipping away at the lead. From 11-14, she won 7 straight points to move into a potentially decisive lead. It was Sindhu's turn to respond and respond she did with 4 points in a row. From 19-19, Nozomi won both points to take a decisive step in winning the championships. It had taken 25 minutes.

Coach Gopi and Coach Handoyo's pep talk after the first game had its intended effect. Sindhu raced to a 9-3 lead in the 2nd game but just like the first game, Okuhara calmly kept reducing the lead with a bunch of points. Sindhu's lead at the interval was just 3. Okuhara proceeded to win 5 of the next 7 points to tie things at 13-13, briefly even taking a 1 point lead. The resilient Sindhu went on a 7-4 streak to bring up 3 game points. Okuhara saved them all. The 2001 All England Champion, Gopichand's protégé squared the match with the greatest point of all time described above.

63 minutes had elapsed. If you thought the 1st two games were punishing, the 3rd game made those look like a walk in the park. With all the momentum seemingly with Sindhu, Nozomi opened the decider with a 5-1 lead. The Indian ace responded with 4 straight points to make it 5-5. No player won more than two points in a row until it was 9-9. Sindhu won both the following points to go with an advantage for the 3rd game in a row. Nozomi quickly regrouped after the break to level it 11-11.

The next 12 points were equally shared. No player won more than 2 points in a row. Each point seemed longer than the last. Both had nothing left in the tank and were running purely on adrenaline. 17-17. Just 4 points away from glory. Sindhu made one push to win the next 2 points. As she had replied in the entire match, Okuhara won 3 points in a row to bring championship point. Sindhu won a 26 shot rally when Nozomi's tired eyes misjudged a deep shot. It was now Sindhu's turn to display weariness as she netted a makable drop shot to give Nozomi her 2nd championship point. After 34 debilitating shots, Nozomi's drop shot was just out of reach even for the long armed Sindhu and she could only net it. Nozomi Okuhara was World Champion 21-19, 20-22, 22-20. The 3rd game alone took a brutal 47 minutes. The match took a whopping 110 minutes in total. The average badminton match lasts about 30 to 35 minutes.

Neck & Neck
The word epic, one of the shortest words in the lexicon, ironically means a very lengthy poem. It is also used to describe a long and arduous task or activity. This match was a grade A++++... epic. A classic of all classics. It was a match that, genuinely, neither player deserved to lose. It was the match with the greatest rally of all time. It was a match of tournament. It was the match of the year. It was the greatest match of all time...period!


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