Ashwini: ‘Happy to let coach decide on doubles partners’

Ashwini, a Red Bull athlete, elaborates on the tactical adjustments made during the switch in partners, in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.

"Initially it took time for me to get used to the fact that you have got to trust him as a coach and understand that he is looking at your best interest."   -  Special Arrangement

Ashwini Ponnappa switched partners on court in mixed doubles (Satwiksairaj R Reddy at the Sudirman Cup, Sumeeth Reddy at Indonesian Open 2017). In the women doubles, she moved away from Jwala Gutta to team up with Sikki Reddy (Indonesian Open) and the duo is ranked World No. 28. The advice for change came from Tan Kim Her, the Malaysian appointed as doubles specialist coach by Badminton Association of India.

Ashwini, a Red Bull athlete, elaborates on the tactical adjustments made during the switch in partners, in an exclusive chat with Sportstar. Edited excerpts:

Question: Reason for trying out different partners in mixed doubles and insights into what works for both?

Answer: One of the things is that in the past, amongst us players, we have always decided who will play with whom. Like Jwala Gutta came and asked me, ‘would you like to play with me?’. I was quite young then and that’s how I decided with the help of another coach. Now that we have a coach who is a doubles specialist, he is the one who is deciding.

Initially it took time for me to get used to the fact that you have got to trust him as a coach and understand that he is looking at your best interest. Now I’m happy that I let him choose partners. Initially when I started off after the Olympics; I played three tournaments with (Kidambi) Nandagopal, followed by another five tournaments with Sumeeth (Reddy), whom I am playing with at the Indonesian Open. If things work out well and good, if not there is always the option to try out another partnership or switch back.

Satwik and you clicked in mixed doubles at the Sudirman Cup against Indoensia for example. Thoughts on the same…

When you’re on court it’s important to have your partner also tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. Slowly he’s opening up so it’s good. One of Satwik’s weapons is his smash, he’s got a killer smash out there, probably one of the hardest. And he’s lethal when ready to hit. It automatically instils a lot of fear in your opponent. He’s also been playing mixed doubles since a very young age so got a very good idea of how mixed doubles is played.

Mixed doubles is a lot about understanding the game and it’s very different than women’s doubles or men’s doubles for that matter. It’s all about understanding where the shuttle’s going to come, being smart, finding the gaps and putting the shuttle there. Satwik is good at that so it makes things a lot easier, For a youngster at his age, he is very confident. He is not someone who is fearful about playing a top player, comes across as someone gunning to go and do really well. He is not in awe of playing a big player and showed that during the Premier Badminton League as well.

Sikki Reddy is your new partner in women's doubles. Any change in your role compared to pairing with Jwala earlier?

I think one of the most important aspects is to see if your games can complement each other. This time I didn’t, because our doubles coach decided we try out the partnership between Sikki and me. She is a left-handed player and also played women’s and mixed doubles; she’s been doing really well in mixed doubles and it’s actually worked out.

Initially it was quite a challenge because our game styles are a little different. In the past I’ve always played in the back of the court and Jwala at the net. I enjoyed that because I liked moving around and knew exactly what my role was in the partnership. I knew what Jwala would do. With Sikki it was different because both of us kind of like moving a lot, so we needed to find a balance to how our partnership would work.

Thoughts on learning along the way and adjustments you both needed to make in your game?

I had to make changes to my game because initially I though okay we’ll play like how Jwala and I played, with her moving into the net a lot and me trying to pull out. But then that didn’t really work. When Sikki and I started, we tried doing the same thing but then I thought as a competent mixed doubles player, she knows she can move into the net and take charge. Women’s doubles doesn’t work like that and it didn’t work out.

The beauty of doubles is that you get to try. The last couple of months we’ve been trying out different kinds of rotations, styles that would help us and where we should strike a balance and decide our comfort level. Now we rotate a lot. If you see Sikki and me playing, you will see that I move into the net and she pulls out and then she moves into the net and I pull out. My role is different, with me having a little more experience.

As the experienced player in women’s doubles, do you have a bigger say in deciding what works for both?

The beauty is that she has also been playing the international circuit for quite some time. When I started playing with Jwala, I had zero experience. I was literally thrown into the international scene at about 20. Jwala had a very different role then, because she was literally mentoring someone who was fresh. With Sikki, she has already played on the international circuit; the only difference is that I’ve got a little more experience. It’s nice because we communicate quite a bit and it’s a lot of give and take so it’s good.

Thoughts on preparations for the Indonesian Open…

I train about six hours a day. It’s also important to take care of your body. I used to take it for granted in the past. Training and recovery were things that I just took for granted. I would play and eat what I wanted and just get away with it. Aches and pains wouldn’t really matter, now over the last couple of months I learnt a lot more about my past than I did in the past. Now it’s really important for me to focus on my body and be aware of what it needs. I look to be smarter with training, working with my fitness trainer Deckline Leitao who lets me enjoy training sessions. I try not overdo it because the focus now is on taking care of my body so that I can give my best.

  Dugout videos