They complement each other

Golden girls... Ashwini Ponnappa (left) and Jwala Gutta after winning the women's doubles at the Commonwealth Games.-R. RAGU Golden girls... Ashwini Ponnappa (left) and Jwala Gutta after winning the women's doubles at the Commonwealth Games.

Talking of her triumph with Jwala Gutta in the women's doubles of the Commonwealth Games, Ashwini Ponnappa says it was the result of their hard work and believes that their partnership can only get better from here. By Kalyan Ashok.

There is now a spring in her step as Ashwini Ponnappa walks to the court for practice. And she has hunger in her eyes. The 21-year old Coorgi lass, who in the company of Jwala Gutta won the women's doubles gold in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, has, at last, found her self-belief. Ashwini is now confident that she can play the game at the highest level.

Looking back at her triumph, Ashwini said, “It's a huge feeling, and my hard work with Jwala had finally paid off and we can go only higher from here.”

A decade ago Ashwini began as a promising youngster as she was among the few maestro Prakash Padukone picked to train at his academy. She was 11 years old then and she made steady progress under Padukone and former National champion U. Vimal Kumar. She was also backed by her sports loving parents, N. A. Ponnappa and Kaveri.

Ashwini soon made her mark in the state-level events in Bangalore, but what really counted was her skill in doubles matches. With her aggressive approach and keen anticipation, Ashwini virtually outshone her partners in the doubles. Her successful partnership with another Bangalore lass, Nitya Sosale, saw Ashwini make her mark on the National scene. The Ashwini-Nitya pair won four National sub-junior and junior titles.

But then came a stage when Ashwini began to yearn for more. “Winning National titles, after some time, loses its charm and what matters is achieving recognition at the international level,” she explained.

A mixed doubles gold with V. Diju in the 2006 SAF Games was a major break for Ashwini at the international level though the competition itself wasn't of truly international class.

In 2008, the country's best women's doubles combination of Jwala Gutta and Shruti Kurien was on the verge of breaking up as the former felt that they were not getting any higher than World No. 21 in the rankings. Jwala then was willing to try her luck with the young Ashwini.

“It was a difficult decision for me to break up with Nitya, but the future mattered,” said Ashwini, who teamed up with Jwala.

The combination was not a hit to start with — the pair faltered quite a few times and had its share of defeats. But Jwala and Ashwini worked hard on their game, as a team. Ashwini even shifted her base to Hyderabad in order to train and play along with Jwala. Soon enough, they found themselves absolutely compatible on court.

Besides winning the National title, Jwala and Ashwini also finished runners-up in the Indian Open in Chennai early this year. And the success of the Jwala-Ashwini combine was partly responsible for India's good showing in the Uber Cup in recent times.

As for the success at the Commonwealth Games, Ashwini said that they did not have any special strategy. “We went in there and played our best. Both of us play aggressively and put our rivals on the defensive.”

Ashwini complimented her partner for her advice and tips. “Jwala is much more experienced than me and has played lot more international events and she always helps me to keep my cool on the court and gives me useful tips,” Ashwini said.

Playing before a packed Siri Fort auditorium in Delhi was an unforgettable experience for Ashwini. “I never imagined that so may people would turn up and cheer us,” she said.

It was a dream come true for Ashwini as she stood on the podium with her gold medal. And as the Indian National Anthem was played, tears welled up in her eyes out of sheer joy.

Ashwini and Jwala have trained hard for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. “I know it's going to be much tougher than the CWG, but we will play our natural game and take one match at a time,” Ashwini said.