Quite a Rally [part 1, badminton]


All she can do is bundle her self back into herself, try that paradoxical feat of becoming herself, only just herself, without effort, without even trying. Unlock the lock to complete self control, the racket as an extension of her species being, the dropping to the ground of the shuttle on the other side of the net as her ultimate purpose as long as she is around to draw air.

The boisterous sound of the crowd and its many-headed chant for her opponent, Junko Koreeda1, ranked nummero due among female juniors in her nation state, who is out of focus beyond the filigreed haze of the net, falls back to the level of ambient noise. There is only the deca2-sected area of the singles badminton court, which is the sum total playing field of her existence, the space of possibility within which she must actuate herself. Beyond that there are dark shadows, like vultures, encircling the court, from which the mass of spectators voice their approving, stimulating, uncoordinated, moist roar.

Absolute being within herself, only relevance of her own body. This is how Yi was trained to approach the match, the games therein and the points within each game, each single one: there are no “big points”, there is only the single drop, slice, drive, smash, clear3… know which one! Know before you know you know. Every hitting of the shuttle is its own big point is the point. At the centre of the point is Yi.

It is, possibly, the last serve of the last game4 but it might as well be the first of the first, in her mind, is how she’s been taught to think. The head of the shuttle faces down, her weight shifts to her right leg, the hind one, followed by a forward and upward swing of her right arm. Without delay the shuttlecock describes a high arc of ascent against the far-above ceiling, past the apex of which it will begin its descent towards, within centimeters of, the long service line for singles. The long service lines are two out of four boundaries of the existing universe, the specific name of which is badminton.

Yi’s yellow-shirted adversary, J. Koreeda, moves to the rear of the court, her legs like quick blades of scissor and, at the exact correct moment, propels herself up into the air. She knows what’s coming before it’s coming but, due to not being able to afford to give Junko K. an advance notice, can only get her body ready and positioned to do what she knows she will have to in another split second. Then does. Side step back across the court blindingly quick in what looks like the mirror motion of what her enemy just performed. Except she elevates higher and, instead of replicating the high clear, goes in for the slashing downwards devastation of a true smash.

Despite the distance, it is evident the shuttle accelerates towards J.K.’s chest region, perhaps even the heart, at about 300km/h, a serious jetcraft comes to mind, a velocity generally considered blinding. The crowd gasps, yells, sharply draws air, having fallen apart into multiple individuals with differing loyalties and sensibilities. They have just been offered a luscious sample of one of the game’s distinguishing gestures, the smash, which unites the central objective of the rapid descent of the birdie towards enemy territory, attained by elevation and precise power, juxtaposed with the delicateness of the instruments: spindly racquet and feathery5 shuttle. These latter two disappear with the celerity of Yi’s right arm’s movement, entering a pure field of play.

Yi’s smash in particular, high, elegant, zeus-like in its high-on wrath, is considered something of an apotheosis within the sporting community. To her, its just another part of being herself, breathing, running, defending the court against the calamity of shuttle impact.

Yellow shirt’s pupils widen with the shuttle’s heart-wards approach but her arms and legs are already at it, marshalling a counter-offensive.

Meanwhile „She of the divine smash“ is en route to the net, fully and understandably expecting a weak, too high return for her to mercilessly kill of. In this universe, the shuttle touching the ground within the four boundaries is death. Beyond them, death returns to the dispatcher.

Her opponent’s reflexes manage to get the racquet’s head between her minimal boobs and the oncoming birdie6. But rather than just desperately deflect it back across to frighteningly proximate Yi, she finds a tiny leftover of space and time to flex back her lower arm and put unexpected zing on the thing. What’s more, into the direction of the unbeloved, defensive backhand of „Her looming at the short service line in forward motion“. The technical term for this is french and it is identical across a wide variety of athletic activities: contrepied. To a certain degree, it comes close to being the very opposite of anticipation: one sees what the opponent is doing, what path of action s/he has committed themselves to and then one makes them pay for it by doing the contrary of what they thought one would be doing to begin with. Within this particular rectangle where there are neither big points nor big boobs7 such a thing is considered beauty.

The shuttle cock hasn’t even cleared the imaginary dividing line in the airspace above the net yet when Yi realizes, by its nauseating speed and angle, that she has been thrown off the offensive and had better switch gears into „R“ without twisting her sore ankle. Which, without a moment’s ado she does: after all she is her body and nothing but her body.

In the stand’s densely packed shadows, hanging darkly upside down from the high cupola, the gasping, ooooohing, slack-jawed crowd is up on its feet, upper and lower legs forming the 0º angle of viewers roused by the incredibility of professional athletes’ championship caliber rally. Michael Jordan moments, R. Nadal8 moments, oneself-on-the-court-doing-something-one-cannot-believe-oneself–capable-of-doing moments. The approximately 80’000 eyes of the capacity crowd are glued to the shuttle’s exact, timeless, once-again long service line-bound trajectory, under which non-yellow aka Yi is backtracking frantically. All footsteps of all matches in one glowing glyph, white on green, would be the concise biography, the runic insigne of her being.

1 Actual Japanese surname

2 As in the number 10

3 Short, hardly crossing the net shot; hitting the shuttle at an angle to the racket face; hard horizontal shot at net height; fast, downward shot from highest possible point; high, clearing shot aimed as far back as physically possible

4 In tennis these are called “sets”

5 Championship projectiles in badminton are made from actual feathers that fray quickly and have to be replaced every few points or so. Before being used they are rendered supple by being held over the steam of boiling water, believe it or not.

6 Given the avian components involved this term makes considerable sense.

7 Dear feminist reader, relax, my friends will testify I’m actually rabidly pro-feminist. I even know that a man cannot legitly call himself “feminist” but must use the term pro-feminist.

8 Originally, I had written R. Federer but it is April 09 now and such a reference would look almost archaic. It’s not that I’ve given up hope, I’m just saying.


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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