Tai Tzu Ying: Flowing game, humble to a fault
The 29-year-old stands apart for her touch and deception; Paris 2024 will be a final chance for Olympic glory before the Chinese Taipei badminton great retires
As unassuming as she is in real life, Tai Tzu Ying maintains the same demeanor on court. In all these years she has been playing, never has the Chinese Taipei shuttler lost her cool on court. On the contrary, a player of her calibre with numerous accolades in her name, Tai Tzu is humble as ever.
But her game is anything but unassuming. In the era of power badminton where a player is judged by the speed of her smash or the power of her shot against the drift, Tai Tzu has created her own niche without these weapons in her armour.
Her arsenal, on the contrary, consists of deception, a malleable right wrist, nimble feet and deft play due to which the 29-year-old has maintained control against most of her opponents in the past decade.
Sunday’s India Open final was a battle of titans, a repeat of the 2020 Olympics final. While Chen Yu Fei had overpowered Tai Tzu in the summit clash in Tokyo, the Olympic silver medallist subdued her Chinese opponent at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, not by strength but by guise and touch play.
Probably the most skilful player badminton has seen in the recent past, Tai Tzu was poetry in motion the last week in New Delhi, returning to India for the first time in eight years.
Initially it looked like the aggressive Chen would run away with the contest, hammering down smashes to reach 7-1. But it was then that Tai Tzu started unleashing her shots. In a battle between deception and aggression, skills of the highest order were on display. Tai Tzu’s biggest weapon is deception, the disguise in her shots that frustrates her rivals as they cannot anticipate her shots till the moment the bird touches the racquet.
With arguably the most beautiful game on the circuit, three-time All England winner Tai Tzu’s game was all about nimble feet and touch play, a kind of game that is never hard on the body, a major reason why the three-time Asian champion has been able to dominate women’s badminton with no major injuries all these years while her contemporaries Carolina Marin, Nozomi Okuhara, Ratchanok Intanon and now PV Sindhu have all struggled with injuries, especially knee issues, due to the intensity of their game.
Tai Tzu is athletic, quietly aggressive, unleashing her smashes – nowhere near as powerful as Marin or Chen – but significantly effective due to the timing, accuracy and placement. Her smashes don’t exude power but are good enough to win points regularly against the very best.
Her service is also unique. Unlike most shuttlers of today who serve upfront with a backhand, Tai Tzu still believes in the high toss to the back, reminiscent of European shuttlers back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tai Tzu’s swift movement, the ability to turn an overhead shot into a beautiful backhand winner despite not being in position, and exquisite retrieving ability flummoxed Chen, who had no answers and regularly kept looking at her coaches in despair.
With a swift and typical half-smash winner deciding the match, Tai Tzu folded her hands and bowed to Chen at the net before doing the same in appreciation of the crowd that had turned up in huge numbers to cheer for her.
Though Tai Tzu hasn’t won an Olympic or World Championship gold, she still draws the biggest crowds.
Enjoy and cherish Tai Tzu’s game for a few more months. The Chinese Taipei shuttler had announced that she will retire post the Paris Olympics. Asked if there is any chance of her changing her decision, Tai Tzu smiled: “The tour is very rigorous. So, no. But I will fight for the medal in this year's Olympics. I know the level of difficulty of opponents, but I will strive for it.”