Jwala & I are on the same page: Ashwini Ponnappa

Adit Ganguly: Two of Indian badminton’s biggest doubles stars are not happy these days. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa believe they have won enough laurels to merit a place in the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). A few days after winning the Canada Open, the duo is in the dark about the appointment of Tan Kim Her, a veteran Malaysian coach who specialises in doubles. Call it lack of communication or whatever you want, but the situation is anything but desirable.

None of that, however, stopped the 25-year-old Ponnappa, looking pretty and petite after a drastic change of hairstyle, from being chirpy at a promotional event here on Sunday. Wearing a light yellow top and a pair of blue denims, the Bengaluru-based shuttler surprised everyone with her new pixie haircut. After obliging a few kids, and their parents, with autographs and selfies, Ponnappa took a good look at the wide range of products available at Total Sports & Fitness (Dadar TT), a go-to store for anyone who has anything to do with bats and racquets, apparels and footwear, fitness and food supplements.

Ponnappa surprised the gathering by revealing that she and her long-time partner, Gutta, were not aware of the appointment of coach Tan Kim Her till the 2020 Olympics. “It’s doing the rounds but I know absolutely nothing about the status of the appointment. It would definitely help if we had a separate coach for doubles. But what would also be good is if we have a separate camp for doubles. If you’re good at singles, you don’t need to be forced to play doubles just to make up the numbers,” said Ponnappa who, along with Gutta, is ranked 13th in the world.

The duo may have got a raw deal and Ponnappa said that the state of the game doesn’t paint a good picture. “Most juniors end up choosing singles because of the immense support and attention they are promised. You can’t blame them for choosing to do so. Nor can you force them to play doubles. Manu Attri and Sumeeth Reddy are doing well and it’s good to see that ours isn’t the only doubles pair winning tournaments. I think the reason why other countries are doing well is because they have separate coaches for singles as well as doubles and even mixed doubles. When we talk about us lacking that extra edge when it comes to playing them, I think this is what we’re talking about,” she said.

Usually, it’s Gutta who voices her opinion against the “strange” policies of the national federation and chief national coach P Gopichand. But on Sunday, Ponnappa proved that she shares the same feelings. “I’ve read in the papers that they are looking to support us, but I don’t think I will have much to say until it actually happens. It’s never too late to give us the facilities that we are asking for. To begin with, the two of us train in different cities. While I train at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bengaluru, Jwala trains in Hyderabad. We don’t have a physio. We pay for our own nutritionists, supplements and trainers. The other players who are a part of TOPS get everything they need. Things do get a lot expensive for us. You then start taking your body for granted by pushing it because you want to play more tournaments.”

Ponnappa went on to add that people in charge of things had got their priorities wrong. “I don’t think they are getting the right advice. You have four singles players when you can have only two participating in the Olympics. Not only are these guys taking two extra players who won’t qualify, but they are also not supporting a proven doubles pair. It just doesn’t make sense. After the fiasco that happened in 2012, the last thing Jwala and I want is not to participate in the Rio Games.”

With Olympic spots up for grabs, the duo wants to break into the top 10. “For doubles, the top 16 pairs will qualify and we have to be there. Ideally, we want to be in the top 10. The qualifying process started in May and ends exactly a year later. There are quite a few tournaments (coming up), but anything can happen. There’s still a long way to go. Our next goal is to do well at the BWF World Championships in Jakarta in August,” said the 25-year-old who, along with Gutta, had won the bronze medal at the 2011 BWF World Championships in London. The duo has also won several medals at the Asian and Commonwealth levels.