CWG specialist Ashwini Ponnappa: A historic gold 12 years ago to now striving for Mixed doubles medal
Commonwealth Games 2022: Ashwini Ponappa is aiming to win her 6th CWG medal, which will take her above Saina Nehwal's medal haul as India's most successful player. But why Mixed doubles and why the change of partners?
A 19-year-old Ashwini Ponnappa got India a historic Commonwealth Games Women's Doubles Gold medal along with Jwala Gutta in her maiden CWG appearance back in 2010. From then to now, Ponnappa has evolved to become India's consistent medalist at these Games, winning 5 medals in 3 editions she has appeared in. Apart from Saina Nehwal, no other Indian has won as many medals at these Games.
Gold: Women's Doubles (with Jwala Gutta), 2010 Commonwealth Games, Delhi
Silver: Mixed Team Event, 2010 Commonwealth Games, Delhi
Silver: Women's Doubles (with Jwala Gutta), 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow
Bronze: Women's Doubles (with N. Sikki Reddy), 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast
Gold: Mixed Team Event, 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast
A journey that began with India's maiden women's doubles Gold at the Games is now headed towards an attempt to win India's first Mixed Doubles medal as Ashwini pairs up with B Sumeeth Reddy in what marks her fourth appearance. Twelve years have gone by but the agility and strength of the two-time Olympian is as good as ever. Hopes from her at her favourite hunting ground are also therefore as much as ever.
Why Mixed Doubles despite a good record in Women's Doubles?
In her past three CWG editions, Ashwini along with her women's doubles partner (Jwala Gutta in the first two, N. Sikki Reddy in the last one), has stood up to the expectations, obtaining a podium finish in each of them. However, this year, an injury to her women's double partner N Sikki Reddy ahead of the finals of the selection trials, gave way to the young duo of Gayatri Gopichand and Tressa Jolly in the category.
Ponnappa went on to win the Mixed doubles trials along with B Sumeeth Reddy and thus got an opportunity to win her first gold in mixed doubles.
"In 2018, I and Sikki won a bronze but it was the first time we won the team gold which was a superb feeling. This time the challenge is different. I am playing mixed doubles, and not women's doubles, but I am up for it," Ponappa told PTI last week.
Has Ashwini-Sumeeth ever played before?
Ashwini and Sumeeth used to play together in 2017 but that lasted for just 5-6 events before Ashwini paired with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy in what was a quite successful pairing. They were a big reason behind India's maiden Commonwealth Mixed Team Gold in 2018.
It was in September last year that Sumeeth and Ashwini decided to pair up again and though they have not had the best of the performances yet, their experience from the past will play a significant role ahead of India's first mixed team fixture of Birmingham 2022 against Pakistan on Friday.
Why was the 2018 Mixed team Gold a special one for Ashwini?
In the Finals of the 2018 Commonwealth Games Mixed Team Event, India was up against Malaysia, a team that comprised a number of champions. However, India stunned Malaysia 3-1 to win the coveted medal. Ashwini/Satwik were up against the Rio Olympics Silver Medalist Chan Peng Soon/Goh Liu Ying. The Indian duo took the first of the three-game thriller 21-14 while the Malaysians bounced back 21-15 in the second one.
In a nail biting third set decider, Ashwini/Satwik trailed by 5 points at the mid-game interval. However, words of motivation from the coaches and the support from the fans, helped the Indian pair create history. Their win was followed by a couple of major upsets caused by Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal that handed India their first ever Commonwealth Games Mixed team Gold.
Why did Ashwini part ways with Satwik?
Though the historic win by Ashwini/Satwik changed the way people viewed Badminton Mixed Doubles in India, Satwik's success alongside Chirag as one the best Indian Men's doubles pair to date made it difficult for him manage both and thus the duo parted ways.
Will Ashwini be able to get her 6th Commonwealth medal this year?
Keeping aside the shift in category, Ashwini is the most experienced player in India's Badminton squad for the Commonwealth Games 2022. Her experience will not only play a dominating role for this new Mixed doubles pair but will also give confidence to the young guns in the team who are making their maiden Commonwealth appearance.
We hope not just Ashwini Ponnappa but the whole Indian Badminton contingent for Birmingham 2022 is able to stand up to the expectations of every Indian and defend the Mixed Team title alongside achieving glory in the individual events as well.