After overcoming self-doubts, Ashwini banks on ‘fighting mentality’ to realise Paris dream

New Delhi, Apr 19 (PTI) Ashwini Ponnappa had to ward off self-doubt that accrued in her mind to secure a third Olympic berth, and, now, the Indian shuttler hopes to infuse a similar “fighting mentality” into her medal quest in Paris.

The 34-year-old, who competed in the London and Rio Games, has qualified for this year’s showpiece after pairing up with 20-year-old Tanisha Crasto in January last year.

The last few weeks have been a blur for the Indian players as they played five tournaments in six weeks to book a ticket to the French capital, even as the final qualifying list is set to come out towards the end of this month.

“We’ve played four tournaments back-to-back and it has been pretty stressful. But everyone was in the same boat because all of us were competing to get a slot at the Olympics.

“For me personally, I’m relieved and happy that we’ve qualified,” Ashwini, who is managed by IOS Sports & Entertainment, told PTI.

Ashwini was delighted to prove her doubters wrong.

“I had that hope (of qualifying). But I don’t think anyone would have thought that I would have got here. Most people doubted that I’d even get back. We were starting from the scratch. But personally, it was at the back of my mind and it was like a wish and a dream that we’d qualify,” she said, Ashwini-Tanisha duo started playing only in January 2023 and ended up winning two Super 100 titles at Abu Dhabi and Guwahati, besides reaching the finals at Odisha Super 100 and Syed Modi International Super 300.

They also reached the quarterfinals of the Malaysia Super 1000 in January.

“Mentally the top 10 players are all stable with their approach. I think when it comes to us, maybe we either get too carried away or too upset on the court with mistakes,” Ashwini said.

However, Ashwini said she and Tanisha need to maintain composure between points to maximise their efforts.

“Either you’re upset and then you’re stuck for the next couple of points and you end up making more mistakes. At times you’re leading and then you can’t take it easy because you’re playing the best. So they’ve got a mentality where irrespective of what the scoreline is, they’re like machines.

“That’s one thing, one area where Tanisha and I need to get stronger…we don’t react too much for good and bad points, but have a stable approach and have a fighting mentality till the end.” Despite being a relatively young pair, Ashwini feels that the close matches against top players have given them the confidence that they can produce the results at big events like the Olympics.

“In a lot of ways, people having expectations on us is a privilege, because that means they have hope and see us as a pair who can do really well.

“Even though we have started playing bigger tournaments (only) this year, we’ve had some good wins along the way that’s given us hope that we can compete with the best, even at a big level like the Olympics,” she noted.

Ashwini is chuffed with the way she has reinvented her game over the years.

“I’m a lot more open to opening up the game and unlike in the past where I hit like a maniac from every corner, now I’m more like…if I can’t get a point with hitting, I open up as well. I think that’s definitely changed.

“I am not just relying on my power to get points, but also I’m quite comfortable defending. My approach to the game is so much different now that I see it from like an all-round point of view rather than being singular.” Though things are currently looking up for Ashwini, she had a tough time after the Rio Games and the Commonwealth Games 2022.

Ashwini admitted that there have been phases where she wanted to give up the sport.

“Many times it’s been a struggle to just continue playing. There have been times that I’ve not really wanted to play at all, those couple of years were really hard.” The Bengaluru-born shuttler had recovered from a bout of dengue to compete at the Rio Games with Jwala Gutta but returned without a medal after losing all matches. Soon they parted ways before Ashwini paired up with N Sikki Reddy.

“It hasn’t been easy because I struggled with a lot of aches after Dengue. I didn’t realize how bad it was up until like months later.” Ashwini and Sikki won bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and were also part of the gold-winning mixed team at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games but couldn’t win any titles on the tour.

“It’s just that I haven’t really won along with my partners. We never won. We did get some really good wins and especially more so in the team events.

“But for me, mentally, I’ve been at a way better phase post COVID. Although then we (with Sikki ) were aiming to qualify for Tokyo (Olympics), which didn’t happen.

“I really needed a break then because I had to reevaluate what I wanted, how I wanted the last phase of my badminton career to pan out.”

Source: PTI News


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