They mean business

Ashwini Ponnappa… aiming for the top 10 along with partner Jwala Gutta.-

While Jwala Gutta has gone hammer and tongs against the National coach P. Gopi Chand, Ashwini Ponnappa says that she shares the sentiments expressed by her doubles partner. By G. Viswanath.

Ashwini Ponnappa made herself comfortable at Level-2 of the Total Sports & Fitness shop at Dadar circle, Mumbai, on the first Sunday of July, even as a handful of customers were trying out the fitness cycle machines and pondering over the type of cycle to buy. The 25-year-old badminton player was representing the brand, ‘Victor’, at the meet-and-greet session with fans. Sporting a completely new, pixie-crop hairstyle — like the British actor Audrey Hepburn’s style of the 1950s — Ashwini caught the attention of the motley group comprising the owners and staff of the shop and the customers.

There was a large media contingent too looking for an audience with the star badminton player, who recently had won the Canadian Open women’s doubles title with Jwala Gutta.

Clearly, the result delivered by Jwala and Ashwini has not received as much recognition and accolades as the achievements of India’s doubles players in tennis, including Sania Mirza, have. Jwala has gone hammer and tongs against the national coach Pullela Gopi Chand. The outspoken player even went to the extent of asking Gopi Chand to step down if he cannot treat the players fairly.

At the outset, Ashwini made an emphatic statement that she is with her doubles partner Jwala on her observation that Gopi is partial. “I share the sentiments expressed by Jwala. I am in the same boat as her. She is more vocal and the media listens to her more.”

Ashwini went on: “At the last Olympics, we lost narrowly by one point and the entire fiasco that happened with the doubles, it was a shocking moment for us as we were really sure we had qualified for the quarterfinals. It did not make Olympics a very nice experience for us; it was very sour.”

Ashwini also pointed out to the flaws in the system of training. “Jwala and I train in two different cities. We don’t have physios. We pay for our trainers, for our own supplements, for our own nutritionist. It works out pretty expensive for us and you start taking your body for granted. You cannot afford to have a physio for an entire month; it’s really expensive.”

The doubles titles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Canadian Open have more than assured the Indian badminton fraternity that Jwala and Ashwini are back in business, and that they vibe very well with each other. “Our styles complement each other. She (Jwala) loves to play an attacking game, and I also love to play an attacking game. She is brilliant at the net, and I like to cover the back of the court,” said Ashwini.

She added that their immediate aim is to finish among the top 10 by next May in order to secure a direct entry into the Rio Olympics badminton draw.

“The top 16 pairs qualify, out of which we need to be in the top 13. Ideally, we need to be in the top 10 to be on the safer side. The Olympic qualifying started this May and ends next May.

Only the 10 best tournaments and your 10 best performances are counted. There is a long way to go and anything can happen at the 11th hour,” said Ashwini, who is hoping to do well in the World Championships in Jakarta (August 10 to 16).

Finally, she explained the reasons why other nations excel in doubles. “The reason is because there is fair treatment to all events. In Europe, the doubles players are doing better than the singles. In England, the doubles players are doing well. Denmark has an all-round approach. All countries have a plan, where singles players train separately and even in doubles, they have separate categories.

“They have coaches for mixed doubles, as it is a different category. They have a chief national coach, who delegates other coaches for different events. Japan, Korea and China have about 5-6 pairs. We are competing against them, and they have international standards back home. We get that kind of competition only when we participate in international tournaments.

We haven’t been consistent against the Chinese. We need that extra edge to overcome them. We need to train harder. Our current men’s doubles pair of Manu (Attri) and Sumeet (Reddy) have done well. It is good to see that we are not the only doubles pair doing well,” Ashwini said.