NEW DELHI: Preparing for her fourth Commonwealth Games, Indian doubles exponent Ashwini Ponnappa is now a different player to the 19-year-old who won a historic women’s doubles gold medal 12 years ago.
What remains though are his thunderous smashes that continue to find their mark, an ability to read his opponents’ serves and returns and his hunger to win.
And now, after five CWG medals, including two gold, a bronze at the world championships and two Olympic appearances, the 32-year-old from Coorg is ready to take another dip at the Birmingham Gamesfrom July 28.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs over the years. I’ve changed a lot in 10 years, I’ve improved by leaps and bounds, I have tons of experience behind me now and it’s been good to be back on the Commonwealth Games team,” she told PTI in an interview.
“I mean, looking back in 2010, it all started there and it was pretty new to me. Winning gold was a big moment. I would really like to relive that moment.”
It was with Jwala Gutta that Ashwini won India’s first women’s doubles gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where the team also won a silver medal. Four years later, the duo won an individual silver medal.
However, the last edition in Gold Coast is something that holds a special place in his heart, as it played a central role in India’s drive to their first mixed team gold medal.
“In 2018, me and Sikki won a bronze medal, but it was the first time we won team gold, which was a great feeling. This time the challenge is different. I play mixed doubles , not in women’s doubles, but I’m ready for it.”
In the past three editions, Ashwini has won the women’s doubles medal, but this time she was unable to qualify after losing the trials final to an injury to female partner N Sikki Reddy.
“There was a mixed feeling, it was our 16th game and it takes a toll on the mind and the body. Sikki happened to have had an abdominal tear before the final. So there were a lot of factors that we couldn’t play our best So yeah, that was disappointing.
“But again, I’m happy that Sumeeth and I won all the games. We were playing three games a day. It’s not easy to stay motivated for every game because we played a lot of them. I had lucky to come out of testing injury-free.”
So how optimistic is she about winning a mixed team medal?
“It’s going to be difficult. All the teams have a lot of good mixed doubles pairs. So it will be difficult but also advantageous because they don’t know how me and Sumeeth play. We started a few months ago.
“So with the experience we bring it can have the right attitude and if we execute our game plan right it could be deadly.”
Ashwini had played an influential role in India winning her first mixed team gold medal at the 2018 Gold Coast Games with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.
However, with Satwik forming a formidable world number 8 tied with Chirag Shetty, it was difficult to focus on two events and so they decided to part ways.
“Me and Satwik had a really good run but then he wanted to focus on men’s doubles and won’t be able to play all the events and that’s understandable. So I needed someone who can play all the events. So me and Sumeeth started teaming up.
“We also played about five events in 2017 but the coaches wanted me to team up with Satwik and we had a great run. Sumeeth is also someone who is a fighter. He’s not someone who would go out scared.
“But it’s a different event, it happens every four years, so I’m going to insist on having fun and not putting myself under pressure.”
He was asked if India were the favorites to retain the mixed team gold.
“We have a strong squad with Srikanth, Lakshya, Sindhu and Satwik-Chirag all in good spirits,” said Ashwini, who is currently training with Indonesian coach Kristiawan Dwi in Hyderabad.
“In a team event, anything can happen. In 2018 we beat the Olympic silver medalists, while Srikanth beat Lee Chong Wei, so it’s important not to take it easy, just make sure we we are on the right track.
“A team event is different from the regular round the world events that we travel together because all of them are focused on individual performance. But in a team event it’s about doing a lot of things together, not having of resentment if someone has to sit down. The bench.”
At 32, one would imagine CWG 2022 could be his last but Ashwini isn’t thinking too far ahead.
“I don’t look far ahead. I take small steps. I always hope to succeed, I want something good to come my way. I know it’s going to be harder and harder, but for now I’m I’m just focusing on Birmingham,” she signed off.

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