Ashwini Ponnappa might be slender looking otherwise but on the badminton circuit is known for her exceptional endurance and stamina – the result of training alongside male players and her hardworking attitude. Without any significant attacking moves in her arsenal, she initially built her game based on fitness and defence, with the ability to run a continuous, long rally; sending everything back to tactically superior opponents until a mistake or an attacking opportunity appears.
Here’s what she said when she had a chat with Sportskeeda:
You must be elated as this is going to be your first Olympics?
- Yes, I am pretty excited as for the first time I am going to the Olympics. Every sportsperson dreams of representing his or her nation at the highest level possible and we all know Olympics is the ultimate showdown. I am really happy that I have been given the opportunity to represent my country at the highest sporting platform.
What are the major differences between you and Jwala and the top Chinese pairs such as Yu Yang/ Wang Xiaoli and Qing Tian/Zhao Yunlei? Is it a matter of technique, or does it come down to strength and physical fitness?
- When you play at the International Level, you are all at the same level as far as technique goes. However, yes we can’t deny that we are not physically as strong and flexible as the Chinese since Indian body type is not really cut out to be in that way. But we do put in a lot of effort to improve our strength and fitness to compete at that level.
How do you rate your chances of winning a medal at the Olympics?
- I am confident but at the same time I don’t want to sound overconfident. It really depends on how we play out there. I know Jwala and I can get a medal but at the end it entirely depends on how play on that particular day. The important thing is that two of us are going there and hope to start well. As for me, I can assure you that we will give our hundred percent.
How have things changed for women’s doubles in India over the last three-four years? Would you say there is greater respect for women’s doubles players and greater acknowledgement to have strong women’s doubles players in the squad?
- The mindset of people have really changed when it comes to women’s doubles. After me and Jwala won medals in Commonwealth Games and World Championship, we got some recognition and I am proud to say that we have been an inspiration for many doubles player throughout the country. In every team event doubles forms an important part of the team and we have an equal tough competition when it comes to doubles. So yes, nowadays it’s very important to have a strong doubles team.
How have things changed for you after the Commonwealth Games gold and the bronze at the World Championships?
- Things have changed a lot for me since my successes at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. People recognise me and expect me to perform better every time I step out on the court. So yes, it has brought upon a lot of expectations and responsibility.
Do you think India can reach the top five in the various team championships in the next three to four years?
- Yes definitely. If we keep working hard and keep playing top tournaments, I am sure that it will be just a matter of time when we will establish ourselves in the top 5 of the world.
You began your career as a singles player and then shifted to doubles. How much has singles style influenced your doubles game?
- To be honest, I was never that good in singles and even when I was called up for the National Camp it was always in the doubles category. I had nothing specific that I only will play doubles but since I started doing pretty well, I shifted my focus completely on doubles.
Can you give us an insight in to your training routine?
- I practise everyday both morning and evening under my coach Mohammed Arif if I am playing at Lal Bahadur Shastri Indoor Stadium and under Edwin Iriawan when practicing at the Gopichand Academy. Its around 6 hours of practice daily including gym training. I focus on all aspects of the game whether technical or physical.
Are you and Jwala practising together?
- Yes, Jwala and I are working very hard together. My family has shifted recently from Bangalore to Hyderabad, therefore we are always together now. We are giving our best on the court and making sure that we get everything right for the Olympics. We share a great compatibility on court that helps in strengthening every aspect of the game.
When are you leaving for London?
- We are leaving for London on July 24th. I am satisfied with the amount of time we would get to practice before the mega event in London. It will give us enough time to acclimatise and get ready for the Olympics.
Last time you both played at Wembley, you guys won Bronze. Will you be aiming for Gold this time?
- Yes, we played in the same arena during World Championship and now once again going to compete in the same place during the Olympics. We got the bronze last time and this time we hope to turn it in Gold.