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Why the Rio Olympics 2016 are absolutely crucial for Ashwini Ponnappa and Indian badminton

A look at why Rio 2016 will be important for Ashwini Ponnappa.

Ashwini Ponnappa

These are interesting times for Indian badminton. A record seven shuttlers will be heading to Rio De Janeiro to participate in the Olympic Games, four of whom will take part in the doubles category.

The doubles game in India has been an issue of much debate with Jwala Gutta openly addressing concerns about the lack of depth in the category and unsure of what the future holds for doubles in India.

It is hence that this Olympic Games will prove to be an acid test for Jwala’s partner Ashwini Ponnappa. 

The 26-year-old, who has been on the circuit for just under 6 years, will be heading into her second Olympic Games, will have as important a role to play as her senior partner, if they are to win the coveted Olympic medal at Rio.

However, this Olympics will not just be an important competition for Ashwini in terms of returning home with a medal, but it will also provide the fans and supporters with a glimpse of what lies ahead for Indian badminton, as far as doubles is concerned.

It does look more or less certain that this could well be Jwala’s final appearance at an Olympics and so there is no doubt that she will go full tilt in winning that medal.For Ashwini,however, it does seem like another Olympic Games is certainly something that she can look forward to and hope to compete in .

A chance to lead the doubles in the coming years

Ashwini first burst onto the senior scene in 2010, when she partnered Jwala for the first time and the duo won their first major competition almost immediately- the South Asian Games gold. Following that, they have given Indian badminton some chequered moments like winning the bronze at the World Championships, the gold and silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and 2014 respectively and also bronze medals at the Asian Championships and Uber Cups.

The shuttler is presently at a stage in her career, where winning the Olympic medal remains the sole big goal that remains to be achieved in her career. 

If one has a look at Jwala’s career, then one can say from 2009, when she was 26, she began to take up the mantle of  being the leader of the doubles contingent in India and to think that early on, she tasted success in both the Women’s Doubles as well as the Mixed Doubles, with V Diju, makes her achievements even more commendable.

Ashwini at present is in a similar stage in her career , although has tasted not as much success at the Mixed Doubles event, but following Rio, it would be time for her to step up another level and take up the mantle from Jwala.

A good performance in Rio will not just give the fans hope, but it would also make Jwala feel positive about her partner, carrying forward the work and help India develop a strong doubles pairing in the future.

In the Uber Cup, we saw Sikki Reddy partner Jwala in some of the matches and among the younger lot, K Maneesha is someone, who can be considered to pair alongside Ashwini in the future. While there is a lack of experience among the duo, there is surely no shortage of talent. 

It will be vital that the administrators look to groom more doubles following the Rio Olympics and not entirely depend on the singles players for partnering the doubles specialists as was the case in the Uber Cup in May this year, when PV Sindhu played opposite Ashwini in the second doubles.

It will be a very interesting 10 days at Rio and it will even more intriguing to see how Ashwini copes up to the pressure of the Olympics and if she does manage to soak it all up and succeed, then we would have surely seen the birth of a new leader.

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