Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy
In 2018, badminton is a different beast altogether. It has fervent fans thronging the stadiums, parents supporting children to actively take up the sport, sponsors lining up to give the sport an all-important lucrative side and India finally becoming the powerhouse it always threatened to become.
However, in 2010, when Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa became the first-ever athletes to win a gold in badminton at the Commonwealth Games event, the sport was yet to break into the collective minds of India.
In the following eight years, badminton in India went through a major upheaval and the category that gave badminton the much-needed fillip was left on the sidelines after the rise and rise of singles division.
From the rise to the fall of doubles in Indian badminton, 28-year-old Ashwini has been the mainstay who has been voicing out her issues with the step-motherly treatment meted out to her division.
Winning the gold in 2010 and following it up with a bronze at the 2011 World Championships, Ashwini had a productive run with Jwala that also saw them winning a silver in the 2014 Glasgow Games and a Grand Prix tournament before calling it quits after the Rio Olympics where the pair failed to make it past the group stage.
After her split with Jwala in 2016, Ashwini decided to follow doubles coach Tan Kim Her and chief national coach Pullela Gopichand's suggestion to pair up with Sikki.
The pairing was not a short-term goal but a long-term plan keeping in mind the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Ashwini-Sikki started off from scratch and are presently ranked No 26 in the world. Finishing runners-up at the 2017 Syed Modi International Grand Prix Gold event, they have frequently faced some of the top-ranked doubles pairs in the world and have ended with encouraging results over their year-long journey.
With both Ashwini and Sikki also plying their wares in the mixed doubles division, the players believe it has added quite a few technical improvements to their game.
From being a novice in her first doubles pairing to becoming the experienced shuttler in her recent pairing, Ashwini feels the change has been for the better and the learning process has continued.
Sikki, a southpaw similar to Jwala, is making her debut at the Commonwealth Games alongside the experienced Ashwini who has got two medals in her kitty. The 24-year-old will also be in action in the mixed doubles event with long-time partner Pranaav Jerry Chopra.
With India's singles division led by names like Kidambi Srikanth and Olympic medallists Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu hogging the much-deserved limelight, it will require yet another successful run at a premier event like Commonwealth Games for the doubles division to once again come to the forefront of Indian badminton.
The pairing of Ashwini-Sikki is making gradual but steady strides in the global level and a medal at the Gold Coast event will on some level resemble the start of badminton's rise in India in 2010 — a seasoned campaigner pairing with a feisty youngster to put India right back on the map of world badminton.
Click here to read profiles of other Indian athletes involved in the Commonwealth Games 2018
Updated Date: Mar 26, 2018 22:58:59 IST