Disappointed for not making it to Tokyo Olympics but eyeing medal in Commonwealth and Asian Games: Ashwini Ponnappa

Ashwini Ponnappa (left) with N Sikki Reddy
Ashwini Ponnappa (left) with N Sikki Reddy

Ashwini Ponnappa’s dream of completing a hat-trick of Olympic Games appearances was thwarted by the pandemic. Due to the cancelation of several international tournaments, the doubles ace could not play much, which prevented her from improving her rankings.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Ponnappa was definitely on her way to sealing a place in the Tokyo Olympics. Ashwini Ponnappa was in contention for a spot in both mixed doubles as well as women’s doubles.

However, just as the 31-year-old was starting to perform well, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) had to cancel at least half a dozen tournaments which stopped her march towards Tokyo.

The men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy will now be the only doubles combination to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics.

Meanwhile, the mixed doubles pair of Ponnappa and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy are currently ranked 22nd in the world. If all the tournaments had happened, they could have broken into the top-16, which would have sealed their place in the Olympics.

One of the fastest-rising mixed doubles pairs in the world, Ashwini Ponnappa and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy stormed into the semi-finals of the Toyota Thailand Open in January 2021. After upsetting fifth seeds Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying of Malaysia 18-21, 24-22, 22-20 in the quarters, the pair of Ashwini and Satwik went down fighting against the top seeds in the semis. Thailand’s Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai edged past the Indian duo 22-20, 18-21, 21-12 in an hour-long battle.

A couple of months later, Ashwini and Satwik made it to the quarter-finals at the Swiss Open in Basel. They had a chance to shock the fifth seeds but narrowly lost the deciding game. Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing of Malaysia squeezed past Ashwini-Satwik 21-17, 16-21, 21-18.

Even in women’s doubles, the experienced pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy have had some impressive performances in the last few years.

Ashwini Ponnappa is currently the only player in the country who is in the top 30 in both women’s and mixed doubles. After failing to book a Tokyo Olympics berth, she is looking ahead and targeting medals at next year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Ashwini Ponnappa revealed that she would like to continue in both the formats as she is gelling well with her partners Satwik and Sikki.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Q: You are ranked 27th in women’s doubles with Sikki Reddy and 22nd in mixed doubles with Satwiksairaj. What will be your priority in the future - mixed or women’s doubles?

A: I wouldn’t choose one over the other. I intend to play both as long as I’m fit and injury free to do that.

Q: Are you disappointed for not making it to the Tokyo Olympics? Had all the tournaments happened, you might have made the cut especially in mixed doubles with your current rankings.

A: It is disappointing not getting to participate in those last couple of tournaments, but given the current circumstances it’s understandable. We had to perform really well in those last few tournaments in order for us to have had a shot at the Olympics. Since we were behind in the rankings we had to produce excellent results to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Anything could’ve happened if all the tournaments had been held.

Q: After missing the Olympics, are you planning to win medals at next year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games?

A: I would definitely love to do that. Hopefully things will be better next year than they were last year and this year and we get to compete with ease.

Q: Mathias Boe was appointed as the Indian doubles coach in January, 2021. Have you trained with him in the last few months? If yes, how do you find him as a coach?

A: Yes, I got to train with him. He’s had loads of experience competing and performing at the highest level for years, which makes him knowledgeable as a coach.

Q: Do you think doubles will get its due in the future in India especially with Chirag-Satwik's success and your success in the last few years?

A: It has been successful in little ways over the years. Hopefully it will only get better in years to come.

Q: Your suggestions for improving the standard of doubles in India?

A: We’ve had some good doubles coaches but only one or two pairs are being sent for tournaments. It will help if there’s a structure where more pairs can be sent for tournaments.

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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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