Back with a bang

Marc Zwiebler had to confront dark questions after a back injury led him to depression. But the injury also taught him the most important lessons of his life

Dev S Sukumar. Odense

Marc Zwiebler

HE might not be a celebrity in his home Germany; nor is he likely to become one even after his remarkable performance here at the Denmark Open Super Series. But world No.30 Marc Zwiebler has no complaints. Playing badminton is the biggest prize he has earned, and he knows how precious it is.

Zwiebler, a good second-rung player who had not gone beyond the semifinals of even a Grand Prix tournament, was nearly immobilised after developing a back problem in 2005. He tweaked a nerve in a match; the injury got worse and he was barely able to move. “It was hard,” says Zwiebler, who, until now, was one of badminton’s many journeymen. “As a kid I was always very active and into sport. I’d always been successful as a junior. But after the injury I had my first free summer, and I didn’t know what to do. The first few months I was desperate. I went into a hole. I enrolled at university and used to play a little bit. I realised I was going to have to accept the injury, the possibility that I wasn’t able to play competitively.”

Zwiebler gradually got accustomed to life outside the badminton circuit. But the rest and exercise were doing him good, and he made a comeback in September 2007. It lasted one tournament . After another prolonged break of five months, he returned to the circuit. “I’d worked on my fitness and my back muscles and it was very hard work.But I think studying at the university did me a lot of good, it opened me up to other people and other activities.”

With top Chinese players pulling out and the draw opening up, the left-handed Zwiebler sniffed his chance and seized it. He outlasted former Commonwealth Games champion Wong Choong Hann, overturned a deficit against former All England champion Hafiz Hashim and in the quarterfinal dismissed Chen Long — arguably the face of China’s next generation — in straight sets. The semifinal against world No.9 Sony Dwi Kuncoro was a classic defensive battle, and he upset the Indonesian to come within a match of his greatest triumph.

His heroics — even in the event of a title victory — are unlikely to make him famous in his football-crazy homeland. But Zwiebler, having experienced the depth of a sportsman’s deprivation, is at peace. “When I was unable to play, that’s when I realised how much badminton meant to me. When you’re a player, you’re always complaining about the travel and the training. I have a good life. I’ve travelled the world, and I’ve made friends. I can’t complain.”

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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