Road to Rio: Together, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have potential for a badminton medal
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa don't start as outright favorites but, if they can manage to make it to the top two of in their group, they can make the quarterfinals and even reach the semis.
Name: Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa
Age: 32 and 26 years
Category: Women's Doubles
Qualification: Gutta and Ponappa qualified for their second straight Olympics based on their ranking
Strengths: The duo's biggest strength will be their past experience of playing together. They have won several medals and almost qualified for the quarterfinals at the 2012 London Games, beating higher ranked players. Their games complement each other well and with the benefit of having a specialist coach, the Indian pair have great potential for a medal.
Past Olympic performance: Gutta and Ponappa participated at the 2012 London Olympics together and missed the quarterfinals by a whisker, and potentially controversial circumstances.
Past record (best performances in women's doubles): Gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi
Silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games in Guwahati
Bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Championships at Gimcheon
Bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships in London
Rio Prospects: They don't start as outright favorites but, if they can manage to make it to the top two of in their group, they can make the quarterfinals and even reach the semis.
The two are arguably the best women's doubles badminton players in India, and Jwala – who has won laurels in both women's and mixed doubles – is the country's foremost doubles specialist. The two have won medals at several multi-sport events, and have been ranked as high as top ten in the BWF rankings. With such a record, they head to the Rio Olympics, as part of the largest ever seven-player Indian badminton contingent, with high expectations, even if they cannot be considered outright medal favorites.
Their medal tally together is impressive and they have always played their best game in crunch games representing India. Together, they have notched up gold and silver at Commonwealth Games, a record bronze at the World Championships, Uber Cup victories and more recently the South Asian Games show the potential the pair has and makes them a strong contender to spring a surprise in Rio.
Jwala and Ashwini complement each other well, their style of play is aggressive and the left and right combination works to their advantage. They have been consistently been ranked among the top 20, reaching as high as number 10 in 2015. They are currently ranked 22 in the world, but they will hope that it does not affect the field of play.
After their disappointment at London 2012, Jwala had taken a sabbatical from the game. In the 2012 Games, they had stunned world number 10 Yu Chin Chien and Wen Hsing Cheng from Chinese Taipei in a round-robin match. However, they missed out on a quarterfinal berth by a difference of just one point, even though they beat Shinta Mulia Sari and Lei Yao of Singapore, after tying with Japan and Taipei on the number of wins. Before their final game, the world number five Japanese pair of Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa had shockingly lost to Chinese Taipei's Cheng Wen Hsing and Chien Yu Chin, ranked 10th, 19-21 11-21. India had then lodged a formal protest with the Games organisers to probe if the women's doubles badminton match involving Japan and Chinese Taipei was played in the right spirit, but they lost the appeal and Jwala and Ponappa eventually missed out.
But both have evolved into better players since that debacle. Their game has gotten stronger and they have notched up more experience together, playing and understanding each others games. The addition of doubles specialist coach Kim Tan Her in 2015 has also also benefited the pair.
Heading to their second Games together, Ashwini is confident about the duo's medal hopes. "I think we (Ashwini-Jwala) have a very good chance to do well and win a medal at Rio. We both are working hard and training to get ready for the Olympics. We are making sure we prepare ourselves well for the big challenge ahead for us. So we need to get ourselves right on track for the games and I hope all things fall in place and we can win a medal there and make the country proud," Ashwini had told IANS.
Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa are placed in Group A with top seeds Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi from Japan, Netherlands' Eefje Muskens and Selena Piek and Puttita Supajirakul and Sapsiree Taerattanachai from Thailand. They need to finish in the top two in their group to qualify for the quarter-finals, which would be the minimum expectation from the pair.
The fact that there are only two doubles team representing each country does give them an edge, and they will be looking forward to exploit this and advance to the semis. And If they manage to make it there, they stand a good chance to come back home with an Olympic medal.
With inputs from agencies
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