India Open 2024: In last lap of career, Tai Tzu Ying pulls out greatest hits against Yufei

The former world number one from Chinese Taipei, who is set to retire after this season, used her cross-court smashes and delightful drops to completely outplay her Chinese rival 21-16, 21-12 in the summit clash, which was a rematch of the Tokyo Olympic final.

Published : Jan 21, 2024 15:45 IST , New Delhi - 5 MINS READ

Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying with the trophy after defeating China’s Chen Yu Fei in the women’s singles final of the India Open 2024 in New Delhi.
Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying with the trophy after defeating China’s Chen Yu Fei in the women’s singles final of the India Open 2024 in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: AP

Taiwan’s Tai Tzu Ying with the trophy after defeating China’s Chen Yu Fei in the women’s singles final of the India Open 2024 in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: AP

If you were in New Delhi’s KD Jadhav stadium for the women’s singles final of the India Open, the partisan split of the chanting after each point made it instantly clear who was the crowd favourite. Based on the intensity of cheering you might be lulled into thinking it was the Taiwanese player in the sleeveless T-shirt with her top knot hidden behind her trademark bandana who was the Olympic champion rather than her opponent China’s Chen Yufei.

Some of her fans had travelled from other cities. One carried a sign that stated she had travelled 800 km (from Bhopal) to watch her play. On the other hand, painted posters, there were professions of love. Some called her queen. The posters and fans didn’t just appear in the finals. Some showed up in the New Delhi cold at 9 am on a cold Tuesday morning, cheered for her and called out her name with as much passion.

“Come on Tai Tzu! Let’s go Tai Tzu!” they’d shout out at the end of almost every other point.

The subject of their adoration would later crack a smile at the chants. “Tai is my father’s name. My name is Tzu Ying! So when the crowd was saying, ‘Let’s go Tai Tzu’, it didn’t make sense at first,” she told the media after the match. Did she want to issue a correction to her fans? “No, it’s ok!” she laughed.

Not that it matters any more.

On Sunday afternoon, as she wrapped up a comfortable 21-16, 21-12 win over Yufei, Tai Tzu Ying played her last match at the India Open. The 29-year-old had said a few months back that she was going to retire after playing at the Paris Olympics. After her first match at the India Open, she reiterated that vow. “After Paris, no more,” she had said.

In a senior international career that had begun when as a 15-year-old she reached the Vietnam Open final, there have been plenty of highlights. 29 titles on the BWF World Tour and (as they previously were known) the Super Series. An Asian Games gold and three titles at the Asian Championships.

READ | Satwik-Chirag go down 21-15, 11-21, 19-21 in India Open final

But the biggest titles that she had chased had eluded her. She’s never won a gold at the World Championships – and by announcing she would retire after Paris-- she never will. The absence of an Olympic title – her silver in Tokyo is her only medal in three appearances – also clearly rankles.

But despite the lack of the biggest title in her kitty, it’s hard to make an argument that Tai Tzu Ying isn’t a crowd favourite and arguably the greatest player of her generation. If you saw Tai Tzu Ying on the court over the week, you’d know just why that is.

Even in the final lap of her career, there is no other player on earth who can execute the shots she has. Her technical skill is unmatched in the women’s game. As a spectator, you are constantly wondering just where she will land the shuttle. You think it’s going to go one way, and it ends up surprising and delighting you. There’s no shortage of angles and changes of pace. She’s called the queen of deception for a reason, but (at least if you aren’t on the other side of the court) this is trickery you look forward to.

If this is the farewell tour of Tai Tzu Ying’s career, she made sure to give the New Delhi crowd a compilation of some of her greatest hits. There was a powerful step-back smash that broke a run of points for Yufei in the first game and then a flicked net winner right after. There was the defensive block that turned Yufei’s smash into a winner against her. And then there was the trademark drive that floated from the back of the court and dropped just over the net, leaving Yufei sprawled on the ground.

That was at least a shot the Chinese attempted to get. Tzu Ying made it 19-11 with an around-the-head drop that Yufei could only watch land in front of her. Soon after, she sealed the match with another cross-court drop.

When Tai Tzu Ying plays this way, you are left wondering just what’s held her back from winning the biggest medals she so clearly chases. Yufei’s loss on Sunday for example has an overall record of just 8-19 against the Taiwanese player but has won where it mattered most – in the final of the Tokyo Olympics. India’s own PV Sindhu has just five wins against 19 losses to Tzu Ying, but two of those wins came in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics and later the 2019 World Championships.

Tai Tzu Ying admitted as much. “I think this match (at the India Open) is at the start of the season when (Yufei) is still tired. At the Olympics, everyone is very well prepared,” she says. While Tai Tzu credits her opponents and says he expects them to get better, perhaps the same holds true for her as well.

Her opponent on Sunday certainly thought so. “She (Tai Tzu Ying) has become more patient than before. She was very fast, which put me under a lot of pressure. There is a lot I can learn from her,” Yufei said.

In the last lap of her career, she seems as sharp and fit as ever. And as Tai Tzu Ying by winning the India Open, claimed one of the few tournaments she’s never won, more than a few partisan supporters will be hoping she concludes her career by filling the Olympic-sized hole in her resume.

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