Red Bull Shuttle Up 'definitely motivating and uplifting' for women's doubles in India, says Ashwini Ponnappa

Veteran shuttler Ponnappa backs the Red Bull Shuttle Up event to improve the standard of women’s doubles in Indian badminton and produce multiple champions down the road.

Amit Banerjee September 18, 2022 00:18:13 IST
Red Bull Shuttle Up 'definitely motivating and uplifting' for women's doubles in India, says Ashwini Ponnappa

File image of Ashwini Ponnappa. Reuters

Indian badminton has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, especially in the singles game with stars such as Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth having become household names across the country. Such has been the improvement in their level that Indian shuttlers are now seen as genuine medal contenders across the big events, often at par with shuttlers from some of the more successful nations to the East.

And it’s not just the singles category where Indian badminton has found success over the years. Medals have also been coming in doubles for more than a decade, thanks to successful pairs such as Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponnappa, who list multiple Commonwealth Games medals and a world championships bronze among their achievements together. More recently, the pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty created history by becoming the first Indian pair to win a men’s doubles medal at the world championships.

Massive improvements in the grassroots-level infrastructure, especially in cities such as Hyderabad where Indian badminton legend and revered coach Pullela Gopichand runs his academy, has translated to improved performances in the big events such as the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the BWF World Championships among others.

The IPLisation of the sport with the introduction of the Premier Badminton League (PBL) has also played its part in moulding young talents into world-class athletes by having them rub shoulders with some of the very best in the business.

The PBL, however, does not have women’s doubles as one of its categories, which would surely come as a blow to players specialising in that discipline who dream of becoming the next Gutta-Ponnappa and making their presence felt in the sport. And it’s not just PBL; women’s doubles doesn’t find too many takers in the leagues played across the country.

That’s where Red Bull Shuttle Up, a league that focuses solely on the women’s doubles category, steps in to fill the void. And multiple CWG-medallist Ponnappa for one backs the league to come good in its quest to produce women’s doubles champions down the road.

“Women’s doubles doesn’t feature in leagues in India. With Red Bull Shuttle Up it’s an event which is for women’s doubles. It is definitely motivating and uplifting. It’s good to have a tournament which appreciates and encourages women’s doubles,” Ponnappa told Firstpost in an interaction.

The Red Bull Shuttle Up enters its fourth edition this year with the qualifiers for the tournament set to take place across five cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Guwahati and Hyderabad — from 18 September to 9 October. The winners of the qualifiers will then participate in the final that takes place on 21 October.

As for some of the most promising talents emerging from the tournament over the years, Ponnappa pointed to the pair of Ritika Thaker & Simran Sanghi, who won the first edition of the tournament in 2018 and are currently part of the national camp.

“Ritika Thaker & Simran Sanghi who won the first edition are doing well. They are a part of the national camp. They’ve had some good matches and can perform better,” the Red Bull athlete said.

While a majority of Ponnappa’s achievement as a women’s doubles player came in Gutta’s company, with the pair winning CWG gold in Delhi 2010 as well as a silver at Glasgow four years later, it has been over six years since Ponnappa parted ways with Gutta. In 2016, she teamed up with another Hyderabadi, N Sikki Reddy, with whom she won bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and finished runners-up at the 2018 Syed Modi International and the 2019 Hyderabad Open in the BWF World Tour.

The pair however, stuttered in their most recent hurdle — at the BWF World Championships in Tokyo, Japan last month. The Indian pair reached the second round before suffering a straight-games loss to the world No 1 pair — China’s Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan.

Looking back at their performance in the marquee tournament, Ponnappa believes she and Sikki Reddy gave their best in the second-round encounter even if they failed to come out on top against the pair that would go on to win the championship.

“We played against the World No 1 pair, who won the world championships. It wasn’t an easy match. We gave the best that we could’ve. If there was one thing we could’ve done better, it would have been to have tried and broken their rhythm a bit in the second rather than giving them easy points,” said Ponnappa, who has since parted ways with Sikki Reddy and has shifted her focus to mixed doubles.

And when asked about some of the more memorable moments in recent Indian badminton history, Ponnappa described India’s historic victory at the Thomas Cup as a “phenomenal achievement”.

“Phenomenal and extremely well done. The boys played really well and came together as a team to perform at the highest level. It would definitely rank among the top moments in Indian badminton,” said Ponnappa, who counts the 2011 World Championships bronze with Gutta among the most cherished moments from her career, along with the CWG gold and bronze in 2010 and 2018 respectively.

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