After a luckless Olympic campaign, Jwala Gutta announced a six-month sabbatical from the game. The Hyderabadi left-hander turns 29 today, and one wonders what her birthday resolutions will be.
One must say, however, that she probably timed her sabbatical at the wrong time. With four top women’s doubles pairs out of the game for a while, and most other top pairs still not battle-ready after the Olympics, the Jwala-Ashwini combine would’ve had a golden opportunity to break into the top-ten by the end of this year. The four pairs were disqualified from the Olympics by the Badminton World Federation, and three of those four pairs were banned for a few months by their national associations.
The future of world No.1 pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli is uncertain – Yu Yang has already retired, and it remains to be seen who Xiaoli will partner in future.
Consider the draw at the China Masters this week. The women’s doubles has so few entries that the draw begins with the quarterfinals! Of the eight in the draw, there are two good Chinese pairs, but Jwala/ Ashwini would’ve fancied their chances against the other six. The China Masters, along with the China Open, are the two toughest Superseries events on the circuit, and it is unlikely that such an opportunity will arise again.
The Japan Open that follows the China Masters has an equally enticing draw. Olympic silver medalists Reika Kakiiwa/ Mizuki Fujii are top-seeded. Apart from the top two Japanese pairs and one Chinese team, the draw would’ve been comfortable for the Indian duo.
A strong showing in the two Superseries would have set the year up for the Indians to enter the elite Superseries Finals at the end of the year. After a lukewarm start, the Superseries Finals has become one of the most coveted titles for any top badminton player, and to qualify for that event is considered prestigious. Jwala and Ashwini could therefore have targeted a strong finish to the year despite their disappointment at having lost a quarterfinal spot at the Olympics.
What is Ashwini to do? She will be playing the mixed doubles with Tarun Kona, the men’s doubles national champion. Ashwini needs a partner who is good at the net, and Tarun is a dependable ally. It remains to be seen how effective they will be at the highest level. One wonders if her Bangalore compatriots Anup Sridhar or Arvind Bhat would be interested in a mixed doubles pairing with her. Both Anup and Arvind are clever doubles players, skilful at the net, and their height gives them an advantage against other Asian pairs. Or perhaps she could look outside India and think of someone like Lee Yong Dae, who is without a partner in both the men’s and mixed doubles!
As far as women’s doubles goes, Ashwini should probably look outside India. There are several European players with whom she could strike a fruitful partnership. Ashwini is getting better with every tournament; the next couple of years will see her at her prime. A good partner will help her – and Indian badminton — a great deal.