The combination of Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta has weathered several storms and stood the test of time
The country’s No.1 women’s doubles pair in badminton is back with a bang! After a testing one-year separation, Bangalorean Ashwini Ponnappa and her Hyderabadi partner Jwala Gutta have come together overcoming all hurdles and reasserted their class by winning a bronze medal at the Asian Badminton Championship in South Korea recently.
The pair, which had won gold in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 and bronze in the World Championship in London the following year, faced tough times after these memorable triumphs with Jwala having issues with the Badminton Association of India (BAI) and facing a ban. During these troubled days, Ashwini, despite partnering other players such as Prajyakta Sawant, stood firmly behind Jwala. Their commitment to each other and to the game paid off at the ABC tournament.
The 24-year-old Ashwini, feels vindicated by her move to stick with Jwala and is elated by the bronze medal-winning effort in South Korea. “It feels really good to have won.I am happy that Jwala and I played well. Though our semi-final match wasn't one of our best, the first three matches were good. Winning the bronze gives us a lot of confidence, especially since we had taken a one-year break and have only recently started playing together,” says Ashwini.
On her decision to reunite with Jwala, Ashwini has no regrets and was sure that they would recreate the magic on the court again.
“When Jwala and I decided to start playing together, it was because we wanted to do well and knew we could do it together. When you play doubles, apart from having a strong partner it is very important that both you and your partner have the same ambitions and believe you can do it. That’s one aspect which Jwala and I have. As for the negative criticism that Jwala faces, it’s tough for her and I understand that. No one would want to be at the receiving end of negativity, but she's strong and manages to focus on doing well despite all that's thrown her way,” says Ashwini.
Ashwini puts Jwala ahead of all the other women doubles players and says there can be no other ideal partner on court for her. “One of the key things is that Jwala is gutsy and extremely confident about her game. That’s very important if you want to play well and win international tournaments. She also believes she can do well at the highest level, which I sometimes find lacking among other women's doubles players.”
Doubles players, especially women, need better recognition in the country, feels Ashwini. “Doubles in badminton is not easy. It is fast paced, tactical and you need quick reflexes. I feel we could do with a little more encouragement as it will definitely help doubles players in the country start doing well internationally,” says the Bangalore ace.
Sponsorship is another aspect doubles players lack, unlike singles players, despite the equally impressive performances. “We put it a lot of hard work and effort too. We go out for tournaments to do well and win a medal for the country just as a singles player would do, so we do need sponsors and support to push and motivate us to play well. Apart from that, I think we need a specialised doubles coach who would be in charge of all three categories of doubles. We need someone with the knowledge of doubles to help us get better and start performing. Preferably a foreign coach who is a doubles specialist,” opines Ashwini.
Furthermore, Ashwini is excited about the Thomas and Uber Cup now being played at Delhi. “I think having this Cup in India is good. It is our home ground and it's always nice to play in your country with your country cheering you on. We have a pretty good team and a fairly good draw too, so we do have chance of doing well. I am sure all of us are going to give our best,” she says.
Besides these events in Delhi, two major international championships are looming large on the horizon- The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July and the Asian Games in Korea in September. Ashwini says: ““The best way to prepare is to take it one tournament at a time. Since I play doubles, our matches abroad are important, as playing well there is one of the best preparations for us to do well in the upcoming major events.”