Ashwini Ponnappa is one of the hardest hitters on the international women’s badminton scene. But the 21-year-old, with the fastest recorded smash in women’s doubles, was considered to be ‘mild’ off the court, a trait that threatened to affect her career.
The Hyderabad-based shuttler took time to accept Jwala Gutta’s offer to partner her as she deliberated on the consequences of breaking her partnership with childhood friend Nitya Sosale.
Ashwini and Jwala created history by winning the women’s doubles gold medal at the Commonwealth Games last year.
They return to the Sirifort complex after six months for the India Open Super Series with a lot more expectations. Ashwini spoke to HT about the growing attention and change in her personality. Excerpts:
The CWG gold means there will be more expectations from you this time around when you play in Delhi. How do you look at your chances in the India Open?
We have been preparing well. We skipped the Badminton Asia Championship to prepare for this tournament. As for the draw, we have a bye in the opening round and we will have to wait and see who will be our opponents in the second. All we can promise is to play at our best.
Apart from the expectations, what has changed for you since the CWG?
A lot has changed in terms of recognition, especially from the media. Even outside, I am invited for events and functions and the dance number we did during the Sahara India award ceremony in Mumbai was a totally different experience. But I didn’t like the picture that came into print the next day.
You have always been known to be reserved and mild off the court. Has that changed now?
Yes, it has changed. Earlier, I always tolerated a lot and generally kept to myself and that did affect my performance and me. But since I have teamed up with Jwala, her confidence and aggression have rubbed off on me. I have started to stand up for myself. Even on the court, I am more confident now.
Jwala, of late, has courted controversy. How do you cope with that?
I am aware of the controversies. But thankfully for me, Jwala has not allowed anything to affect her performance on the court, during the training and competition phases. I am mostly untouched with what is going around in the media.