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When one hears the name Ashwini Ponnappa, you are immediately transported to the Golden era of Indian Doubles badminton when two women, fighting all odds, managed to do what Singles badminton could not at the time. It was an era before Saina Nehwal, before PV Sindhu. A time when two names reigned supreme- Jwala Gutta and Ashwini. Cut back to 2018 and one out of that dynamic duo is still playing, still making a mark- but in a slightly different zone. Wandering on waters that have previously been largely uncharted by the veteran Ponnappa, she has put her Mixed Doubles career in partnership with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy on equal par with her Women's Doubles game with Sikki Reddy. The 17-year old Satwik, India's latest and among the youngest of success stories in Badminton seems to be a prodigious young talent with the penchant to quickly pick up his game at any given moment. In fact, it is this adaptability that has largely helped the youngster take massive strides in improving his game in a quick period of time. The fact that both he and his Men's Doubles partner Chirag Shetty had been playing and doing well with other players before they found each other (in somewhat forced circumstances, it might be added) speaks volumes if one were to consider their steady upward curve. The duo have now found themselves in the Top 20 World Rankings- a testament to the resilience that both undoubtedly carry. Also read: Can Satwik and Chirag recreate the early Lee-Hesh days in Badminton? While speaking to The Bridge ahead of the Commonwealth Games, Satwik had made it a point to highlight the special effect that Ashwini had had on his game. "In India, we largely lack a Doubles idol. There have been many in Singles but this lack and the blatant neglect we sometimes face can play a major role in discouraging youngsters from a career in Doubles." "Out of Chirag and me, I am the only one who plays both Men's and Mixed Doubles."
"Not only has that helped me grow as a player but also as a person. We have a good rapport off the court, and I have realised that there is so much to learn from her- even beyond the Game."
"Undoubtedly, keeping up an equal temperament in both would not have been possible without the guidance of a senior player like Ashwini," Satwik continued.
Till date, Ashwini's Mixed Doubles partners have been varied and many in number.In BWF events, she has hardly found the consistency she needed in the category. Can we chalk that up to poor selection of Partners? Maybe. 13 BWF matches with Manu Attri, 5 with Pranaav Jerry Chopra, merely one with Guru Sai Dutt and 7 with Kidambi Nandagopal. One would expect the list of partners to end there but it doesn't. She has had small, short spans of games with Sanave Thomas, Sumeeth Reddy and Rupesh Kumar. Probably the one that stuck for sometime was her time with Tarun Kona. 55 BWF matches played but a dismal win/loss ratio says more about the futility of the partnership than anything else- Just 16 Games won. Watching her on court as India took on Malaysia in the Mixed team finals, being the figure of composure in the face of a tough match that was stretched to its full limit, one thing was made very clear. Not to mention the intense stamina that she portrayed to play four continuous matches on a single and still managed a Bronze despite the fatigue. But it's her partnership with young Satwiksairaj that has been the story of rising success in the Mixed Doubles category. If the presence of Ashwini on court has improved Satwik's game, Ashwini's so far successful combination with Satwiksairaj has matured her as a player. While Satwik is the figure of aggression with persistently successful smashes, it took the cool, strategic hand of Ashwini Ponnappa to put India back in the driving seat with 7 consecutive points during the tense game. Satwik and Ashwini have so far played 26 matches in BWF affiliated tournaments, winning 16 of them. It may be early days for them still but it is probably safe to conclude that, so far, their partnership has been mutually conducive to both. It is exemplary of the perfect mix in style and play that one yearns to see in a team. With them at the helm, the mantle of Indian Mixed Doubles is definitely on an upward curve.