At their best, Ashwini Ponnappa and Jwala Gutta were undoubtedly the most successful women’s doubles pair in India. After their partnership came to an end in 2016, hopes were pinned on Ponnappa’s pairing with Sikki Reddy to carry the mantle of women’s doubles in India forward.
They did win the bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and have managed to stay in and around the world top-30. But the pair hasn’t really managed to take the badminton world by storm, losing in the first round in 13 out of the 20 tournaments they took part in 2019.
As things stand now, India have just three womn’s doubles pairs in the top 50 of the BWF rankings with Ponnappa and Reddy ranked 30th on the list. The next pair – Pooja Dandu and Sanjana Santosh – is in 46th position while Meghna Jakkampudi and Poorvisha S Ram are placed 50th.
However, apart from Ponnappa and Reddy none of the other players have shown any real spark on the international circuit and the obvious question that gets asked is what needs to be done to improve standard of women’s doubles in the country.
Ponnappa, a veteran in the sport now, feels that the talent isn’t tapped well.
“We are (doing) not too bad in women’s doubles but we have a long way to go to get more pairs up the rankings and more players playing the event. We need events that would encourage the women’s doubles players to improve their skills,” the former world championships bronze medallist told Scroll.in.
Lack of PBL chances
Emphasising on the lack of a platform for women’s doubles, Ponnappa pointed at the absence of the event in the Premier Badminton League which she felt was a big opportunity lost to motivate younger players plying the trade.
“One of the nice things (if women’s doubles is included in PBL) would be that we would be able to interact with other players, junior players would be able to mix with the top players, players from other countries could come in and share their views. But with women’s doubles not being there, the players lose out,” the 30-year-old said on the sidelines of the Red Bull Shuttle Up national finals in Hyderabad on Sunday.
“It is demoralising as you see other events given importance and then you see that women’s doubles is not there. We have done well in the past in women’s doubles and you are not encouraging the new players to take it up. It’s sad,” the Kodagu-born shuttler added.
The absence of opportunities have thus contributed to a lack of competition for women’s doubles players in India which has led to the dilution in the quality of the training sessions.
Sikki Reddy echos the same sentiment.
“Other than Ashwini and I, we don’t see anyone else (who could compete). There is a gap after us,” she said.
“We always wanted new girls to come up so that we could play against each other and practice with each other. Now every day we practice with boys. In tournaments, however, playing with girls is totally different from playing with boys. And that hurts our performances,” Reddy added.
Ponnappa also highlighted the lack of exposure to the other pairs who don’t always make it to the top international events.
“I feel the level of the players would come up when we are all competing against each other and pushing each other to do well which doesn’t happen too often because we are always traveling, playing different matches, different tournaments, so they don’t get that chance,” the 30-year-old said.
Ponnappa though revealed that doubles events are starting to get the necessary attention in the last two years in terms of players consciously opting for them due to the increase in popularity of the sport. But the absence of opportunities to showcase their talent continues to hold the players back despite their willingness to do well.
“More leagues, more competitions is what we need. Without that how can a player make any progress,” she said.
Big year ahead of Ponnappa-Reddy
On the personal front, Ponnappa and Reddy have their task cut out as they try to make the cut for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic. With just 16 pairs qualifying for the Games, they would need to close in on the top-20 position in the world ranking before the April 30, 2020 cut-off date and are focussed on achieving that goal.
Reddy said, “Olympic qualification means there are a lot of tournaments because it’s based on rankings and there are no quota places. So, we want to really focus on our fitness levels as there are chances of getting injured when you play so many tournaments.”
Speaking on a tough last year for the pair, Reddy said things were slowly starting to fall in place under new coaches Flandy Limpele and Namrih Suroto who took over after Tan Kim Her left the post earlier this year.
“It has been a bit difficult to adapt to a new coach after the sudden change. Slowly I think the coach is understanding how the Indian system works, how the players and their body conditions are. So, I think now we will get better,” Reddy said.