CHENNAI: It has been eight years since Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta won gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Back then, the sport was just starting to gain popularity in the country. A lot has changed over the years, both with the game and Ashwini herself. Singles players have started winning and have overshadowed the doubles category.
As for Ashwini, a disastrous Rio Olympics forced her to try something new. A change in partner seemed essential as Gutta was ageing. In came N Sikki Reddy, with Tokyo 2020 in mind. It has been one-and-half years since they started playing together.
While they have not won a major title together, one final appearance (2017 Syed Modi BWF Grand Prix Gold) has come their way. However, the 28-year-old, who has plenty of experience, feels that the transformation has been smooth. “With Jwala, I felt that I never used my head. I was young and she did the thinking and I was just going with the flow. With time, it has changed. Me and Sikki (Reddy) try and sit together and discuss what went wrong and how we can do better. Both of us have learnt a lot and understand each other well,” Ashwini said.
There has been a huge change in Ashwini’s personal life as well. Last December, she tied the knot with Karan Medappa, her long-time partner. Starting a family during the peak of one’s career can be significant. An athlete can find it difficult to divide time between professional and personal commitments. But thankfully, the athlete sponsored by Red Bull is lucky that way. “He (Karan) is always supportive. Sometimes, such things can be distractions. But he always tries to encourage me and travels with me whenever possible,” she added.
For any athlete, age will take a toll on them physically and mentally. Ashwini agrees. She no longer tries to push herself and be as aggressive as she was a few years back. According to her, it is better to play and win meaningful tournaments than trying to play frequently and hurting your body. But all said and done, Ashwini wants to add a third CWG medal to her resume. But she feels that it is not going to be easy. “The standard of badminton is nowhere close to what it was eight years back. Jwala was a pro and I feel we had it easy back then. Now, there are plenty of talented players coming up and most of them have already played at the highest level. But we will give it our best shot.”