Off court, she looks like a professional model. On court she's at her professional best. With the Olympics ahead, badminton player Ashwini Ponnappa talks to Prabalika M. Borah about her tryst with the sport

“Can I please put some eye-liner? I am just back from practise and not quite ready to be photographed,” pleads badminton player Ashwini Ponnappa who has made Hyderabad her home. “Well kind of. I used to be in Hyderabad most of the time for the badminton camps. So when my dad got a transfer to Chennai, he requested for Hyderabad so that it would be easy for me. He works with RBI and they were kind enough to consider his request. My mom too sought a transfer to Hyderabad. Since then life has been good with parents and home food around. And the last three years in Hyderabad has been different but a good experience,” smiles Aswhini.

Of the countless medals, cups and trophies, Ashwini's gold medal at the South Asian Games in 2006, in the 2010 Commonwealth Games has catapulted her to fame. She won the gold medal in Women's Doubles event pairing with Jwala Gutta.

At her home in Begumpet, Ashwini is dressed in a maroon lace skirt, a white blouse and matching maroon shoes to go with it. Her subtle green eye-liner and the nude shade on her lips complimented her sharp features. “I like dressing up when I get an opportunity. During tournaments we hardly get to dress up, so I make the most of the opportunity I get. And I have a shoe-fetish, I like buying footwear. Like the ones I am wearing now are from Hong-Kong,” says Ashwini who loves her mother's suggestion on clothes and says she misses her mom's custom-made clothes.

Done with her college studies, Ashwini says she feels a lot more relaxed without the pressure of studies. But as a school kid Ashwini was more of a sportsperson than the ‘studious kind.' Terming her as ‘hyperactive' her mom decided to put Ashwini in a sport which would channelise her energies well. “I couldn't call myself brilliant in studies. But when I was in my Std X, I decided to pull up my socks and get good scores. I was scared of Hindi because I just couldn't understand anything. However, a month before my exams a teacher agreed to help me out. That really helped me,” she recollects.

Then she must be good with Hindi? “Not at all. I refrain myself from speaking Hindi but I understand. People laugh when I speak in Hindi,” she giggles

Ashwini says after that good scores was something she started paying attention to as well. “I was always inclined towards sports. Before learning to play badminton I was an athlete and I was good at it. When I reached Std IV, I started to play the sport as a summer camp activity. Very soon I entered junior level in the under-10 and under-13 category. Till about that time I wasn't sure if I would seriously pursue badminton. Then in the under-16 category I reached the finals and I got the confidence to take up badminton,” recollects Ashwini who was the games captain in school. “I hardly attended school in the whole of Std X but I was lucky to be there during our annual sports day. It was a memorable experience,” she says

Ashwini is now preparing for a tournament in Korea and says her schedule is such that she will have to spend the New Year's eve on a flight. Besides her practise sessions, Ashwini is reading the Twilight series for the second time and says, “I didn't make the effort to watch the movie in the theatre as I like the characters in the book more. The onscreen characters aren't half as good. When I am not busy and home I mostly like to read,” she says. Otherwise this young girl loves spending time with her friends from college. That she loves being surrounded by family and friends is evident from the photos she has put up in her room. “They have been wonderful and the support which they provide is unmatched,” she adds. Like all girls Ashwini says she loves the attention and enjoys when being asked to be a chief guest “until I am asked to give a speech. I feel I am not good at addressing gatherings.”

What about anger management? “That is one area I have to really work on. I am impatient. That's when the ‘sets' get affected. My mom keeps pushing me to do yoga and breathing exercises but I have been putting that off. Now I really think I shouldn't delay. My partner Jwala is amazing and she keeps calming me down,” she says.

What are the plans for the year ahead. “Olympics. We are not just looking at qualifying but also give our best shot to win,” she says with confidence.

On her partner Jwala

“I was surprised when I was asked if I wanted to be her doubles partner. She was Jwala. I was excited and surprised but worried if I would hurt my initial doubles partner—Nithya. Jwala as a partner is strong and is very confident. Besides being an amazing player she also mentors me on court when the need arises. I love spending time with her off court and love catching up on good food and sinful chocolate treats. She is also a very good partner to go shopping with.”

Fitness and games

“We practise every day for three hours. I workout for my fitness at Gavins and that constitutes another two hours everyday at the gym. My training in the gym is mostly for flexibility, strength and resistance. I mostly practise at the L.B. Stadium and found a great mentor and coach in Arif sir. He constantly suggests improvements and better ways to tackle the opponents. He is patient and very calm.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012