Ashwini Ponnappa exclusive: Shuttler says India needs right support to produce more quality doubles pairs
Indian doubles badminton player Ashwini Ponnappa believes that India requires an extra push to produce more doubles shuttlers in order to compete with other Asian giants.
Indian badminton has been on an upward trajectory since the start of 2017, particularly in the singles department with the recent heroics of PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth and HS Prannoy at Badminton World Federation (BWF) tournaments. However, the doubles section has not tasted success since Sikki Reddy and Pranaav Jerry Chopra's win in the mixed doubles event at the 2017 Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold competition in January.
Veteran doubles player Ashwini Ponnappa feels that doubles badminton in the country needs the right backing to match the success of their singles counterparts and to churn out top doubles shutters.
"I believe we still have a long way to go in terms of producing a lot more doubles pairs. It will happen in time. If the right support and push are given to more players we will see more results," Ashwini, who is also a Red Bull athlete, told Firstpost.
Ashwini sees a lot of potential in the players but to compete with other Asian heavyweights like China or Malaysia, the support should be consistent. "If there is consistent support for a doubles player, I'm sure we can see us (India) in a good place in the coming years," the 27-year-old explained.
Recently, national coach Pullela Gopichand too stated that Indian badminton is still far away from being a dominant force such as China and said an overhaul of domestic structure and administration will be needed to become a superpower in the sport.
Meanwhile, the spotlight has always been on the singles players in Indian while the doubles players don't get the recognition they deserve. Earlier in May, Ashwini's women's doubles partner Sikki spoke to Firstpost about the lack of encouragement for doubles players in the country.
Astonishingly, there was not a single mixed doubles coach until July 2015, and singles specialist Gopichand, who is in charge of numerous singles players, took care of the doubles pairs at the same time. The pairs had to set up their own training system and program. However, since the arrival of Malaysia's Tan Kim Her, a special doubles coach, there is a proper system and schedule in place that is helping doubles shuttlers to improve and focus on specific drills.
"Tan Kim Her is a good coach. He pushes the players and works on doubles skills. The players definitely benefit from having an international doubles specialist," Ashwini said.
Ashwini and Sikki finished runners-up in the women's doubles event at Syed Modi earlier this year – losing to Danish pair of Kamilia Ryter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen – and also came close to winning a number of three-game thrillers in tournaments.
The partnership between the two has been constantly improving after they paired up in November last year. They began the year ranked 110th in the world and have now risen to 25th in the latest BWF rankings. If one watches the duo's game closely, it is evident that Sikki takes the back court and creates an opening for Ashwini, who then attacks from the forecourt and then covers the rest of the court swiftly.
"Sikki and I play very differently from what Jwala (Gutta) and I used to play. We rotate a lot with her moving at the back at times and me moving into the net. We had to work on our rotation as it was new to us, but we've slowly gotten there," said Ashwini.
However, when asked about why the pair have lost a lot of close matches despite dominating majority of the games in recent times, Ashwini replied: "The missing element would be patience. We need to be more patient and not get hurry up to get points, especially when we are leading."
Ahead of the World Championships in August, the Bengaluru-based shuttler hopes to stay injury free so that she can showcase her best game on the court. In 2011, Ashwini and Jwala had produced one of their finest performances to become the first Indian pair to clinch a bronze medal at the World Championships. This year, Ashwini is optimistic that she can produce a similar result.
"It's important that I train smart and train right. That for me is to be able to play my best on the court and play a strong game, without worrying about any injury," she concluded.
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