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Interview with Ashwini Ponnappa: "Beating the Chinese felt good"

File Photo: Ashwini Ponnappa

File Photo: Ashwini Ponnappa

Ashwini Ponnappa and Pradnya Gadre scored possibly the best-ever match win by an Indian women’s doubles pair by beating favourites Ma Jin and Tang Jinhua in the second round of the Malaysia Open. Although they lost in the quarterfinals, the win was evidence that the Ashwini and Pradnya combination is looking promising. Ashwini talks to Dev S Sukumar about the win and aspects of her training:

The win over Ma Jin and Tang Jinhua was very impressive…

It’s the first time I’ve beaten a top Chinese pair. It felt good. Pradnya played well. They (Chinese) were a bit scared, and did everything in the second game to change the momentum. They were a little confused. Jwala and I have played Ma Jin and we’ve lost a close match. Both Ma Jin and Tang Jinhua are net players, so they weren’t hitting from the back. Still, they’re a good pair as they’ve won two Superseries and reached the Korea Open final. We’ve always done well. It depends on how two individuals think. Jwala and I aimed big. Pradnya is now confident at the net, and it was easy for me to cover the back and play my normal game.

How has your physical training changed over the years?

I train with Gavin Holt in Hyderabad, because I get individual attention. He’s brilliant. At the camp it’s mass training; even if you do something wrong, nobody points it out. Here a lot of thought goes into it. Gavin’s got his gym, and though it’s packed, everyone’s training seriously. The nice part is the atmosphere, because everyone’s working. There’s no chit-chat. I really love it. I do footwork (drills) also. He uses a ball to improve my side movements. This really helped during the Olympics.

I started off with a lot of running at Prakash’s (Padukone) sir’s academy. (Running) was essential when you’re younger. But at the national camps I wasn’t too happy with the training, because it didn’t make me look forward to it; it was training for the sake of training. You didn’t know how it was helping. I injured my back because of all the running.

Then I went to Gavin sir. He gave me exercises which made the pain go. I trust him, and he gives his best.

What is your approach to weights?

I do light weights: 3kg dumbbells, 25 reps each, 4 sets. It’s not easy. Gavin’s pushing me to get me better. All of us (at the camp) got injured with heavy weights; now that’s changed. It’s improving now. Using your own body weight is not so easy.

What about nutrition and your thoughts about food?

I haven’t changed much. I basically eat everything. When I’m at home, I eat more healthy food. I don’t restrict myself too much, but if I know I’m putting on weight, I will cut down on the sweets that I love. When I’m in Hyderabad, I have breakfast and lunch at the camp. I don’t have supplements. I think it’s more mental. I used to take them earlier, and I didn’t find any difference.

Are you enjoying the game now?

I’m enjoying badminton, enjoying playing with Tom Sir. He pushes me to 100 percent. Hong Kong was my first tournament with Pradnya (Gadre). Before Hong Kong I worked for one week with Tom Sir, and it really helped. Especially my net game; he gave me some simple suggestions that were very effective.

I felt the last two tournaments were good for my doubles and mixed doubles. Tarun Kona and I have just started out (in mixed doubles)… it’s fun playing with Tarun; he’s a hardworking guy and he’s open to change. Now that we are taking it seriously, we want to do well, and I’m sure we can do well, because players like Thomas Laybourn and Kamillar Rytter Juhl (2009 World Champions) aren’t a conventional mixed doubles pair, because Juhl hits hard and Laybourn is brilliant at the net. Laybourn rushes to the net, which is kind of what Tarun also does.

What are your targets for the year?

I’ve my goals set out, and I’m looking forward to doing well at the All England and Swiss Opens. I’m not sure about (the partnership with) Jwala… I don’t know what to do, I’m confused. I told Pradyna that the partnership will continue until Jwala starts playing. I want to do well at the Superseries. I don’t want to be happy with just the first round or second round.

Looking back at 2012, are you happy with the way the year went?

Firstly, qualifying for the Olympics was a huge deal for me and Jwala. I was excited because we were the first women’s doubles pair to have qualified from India, and when we found we had qualified, it was the most exciting thing ever, because until you’ve qualified, you can’t think of anything else. We worked hard, and I was positive we would do well.

Losing out before the quarters was a huge disappointment. Except for the first match, we played brilliantly in the second and third. That was satisfying for us. But the Olympics wasn’t too great, I didn’t expect it to go the way it did, with the (throwing) controversy and everything.

You’re well recognised now in Indian sport. How does it feel to be a star?

It’s the same. Obviously it’s different for Saina, but for me… it’s the same. I’m yet to get there. I’m not yet established as a really good player.

What’s the difference between the world’s best pairs and you?

Doubles is not about just one person. Both partners have to think alike, and both have to put in effort. You can’t judge your game on your performance alone. Our doubles expertise in Iindia is not good at all. In terms of the push… simple things like, at the nationals, they didn’t recognise Jwala, Diju and me for being the first doubles pairs to qualify. That’s very demotivating. You don’t have any push from any side. At the last nationals, they didn’t even recognise our efforts. Would they have been happy if we had not qualified? We did give our hearts out. There was not even a mention of the three of us. Outside India, that isn’t the case. Doubles players are given same importance as singles players; they’re seen as a team.

Didn’t the Commonwealth Games gold change a lot of things?

That’s because it happened in India. At the World Championships we won a bronze, the first medal after Prakash Padukone. If it was anyone else, it would’ve been blown out of proportion. The fact that it was doubles, and the fact that it was Jwala and me… it was demoralising, but the fact that we are passionate about the game, the fact that we have parents, friends and coaches who push us, is what gets us going. But it does hurt when the efforts you put in are not recognised. As a doubles player, you have zero support. They do send you for tournaments, but that’s about it.

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