Indian badminton, or rather singles badminton in the country has grown from strength to strength over the past few years. There is no one accolade that the singles shuttlers have not able to bring to the nation. And then we have doubles category, that is glory starved for the longest of time. One can vaguely remember Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa's world championship bronze in 2011, and nothing apart from that.
One would expect the Badminton Association of India to use the same success formula of the singles, in the doubles category as well. But it looks like it's easier said than done. Still in India most of the doubles players come from the singles circuit only, and that is probably the single biggest reason for doubles' stagnancy.
But if the last one year is to go by, there is something that has definitely changed the performance of Indian doubles shuttlers. In men's doubles Satwik Sairaj and Chirag Shetty reached the semi-finals of the Indonesia Open, to go with a quarter appearance in the French Open. Then Pranaav Jerry Chopra and Sikki Reddy reached the semis of the Japan Open too.
If ace shuttler Ashwini Ponnapppa is to be believed, all this was possible because the mindset of the players and coach's is changing. In an exclusive chat with International News Sports, she said, "Earlier, everyone wanted to be a singles player, but now the trend has changed and it is good to see. We only started playing doubles when we were 19. Then there are countries that focus, encourage doubles players. Now we have started seeing players who start out as doubles players only. So this is an encouraging sign for us.
"Having said that, I think we need to start at the grass root level. We still have a long way to go. Youngsters should be encouraged to take doubles right from the start. There should be a proper system in place for the doubles."
Never shy of raising her voice for doubles badminton, Ashwini also highlighted on the fact, how things have come good since the arrival of coach Kim Tan Her. The coach has tried a few doubles combinations and looks for the best set of partners from the available players. Till now that mantra has worked for him, but it is high time that specialised doubles teams start coming from the junior level itself.
"As a foreign coach, your main aim is to get results, and he has done a fabulous job in that, as he has created new successful partnerships. Sometimes things may work, or may not work, but you got to move on quickly. So he is the one who created Satwik-Chirag, Sikki and my partnership, and many more. And I think in the past one year we have improved our performance. You do not get results immediately, you do need time. Sikki and I reached the finals of the Syed Modi, which is a first. So we hope to keep doing the hard work for getting better results. Now the need of the hour is to get specialised doubles teams too, that would help us in long run."
Ashwini plays both, women's and mixed doubles, and sometimes it can become difficult for a player to adjust with different partners, but this is where her rich experience in the circuit plays it's part. In fact, she was predominantly a back court player, but having come into new partnerships with Satwik and Sikki, she is focusing more towards the net. That too is not a big problem for the Bengaluru player.
"My partnership with Satwik and Sikki has been going really good, and I'm positive that this year is going to be better in terms of performance. We really want to do well in the Commonwealth Games and are quite focused on that. Satwik is a hard-hitter, and he has done really well for a youngster, in men's and mixed doubles. I'm happy that I have Satwik as my partner.
"Both mixed doubles and women's doubles are quite different from each other. I have always been at the back of the court. In the past one year I have worked a lot on playing at the net. And Satwik is really good at back of the court too, so that has really encouraged me to go at the net."
Come the India Open, Ashwini is certainly eyeing the title, as she feels that she still has the hunger alive to win a tournament.
"There is a lot of weight of expectations. More than the expectations of the fans, I have more expectations from myself. It is important to keep the eagerness to do well alive. I do believe that I can get another medal at a major competition That's gives me a lot of confidence," she concluded.