Ashwini Ponnappa

How Ashwini Ponnappa prepared for the 2018 Commonwealth Games

© Ali Bharmal

The Indian badminton ace talks about her training schedule, her partnership with N Sikki Reddy, and her plans for the rest of the year

Ashwini Ponnappa is one of India’s most accomplished badminton stars.

She has won two medals at the Commonwealth Games, as well as bronze at the World Championships, Asian Championships and Asian Games. And now she is going for a hat-trick of medals at the tournament where her success in international badminton began.

With the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG) set to begin in Gold Coast, Australia, Ashwini is ready to stake her claim on a third successive medal.

It was at the 2010 CWG in New Delhi that she and then-women’s doubles partner Jwala Gutta won gold, to kick-start India’s newfound love for badminton. It was her first international medal, and four years later she claimed silver at Glasgow in the 2014 CWG. It’s no wonder that she looks upon the Commonwealth Games with such fondness.

“I’ve got a soft corner for the CWG as that is where I won my first international title. So I am excited and looking forward to doing well there again,” Ashwini said before jetting off to Australia to prepare for the Games.

Ashwini followed Deckline Leitao's fitness plan
Ashwini followed Deckline Leitao's fitness plan

Ashwini and her current women’s doubles partner N Sikki Reddy have been playing together for over a year. Leading into the games at Gold Coast, they worked on a four-week training plan with emphasis on fitness and on-court training. With the Badminton World Federation adding more tournaments into the playing calendar in 2018, it also became important for Ashwini to pick which tournaments to play ahead of CWG.

“We chose to play just a few tournaments and focused a lot on training. Fitness-wise I’ve been following the program given to me by my strength and conditioning coach Deckline Leitao. For me, it was more about maintaining my fitness levels and focusing on my court game,” she says about her training program.

Ashwini did many on-court sessions as part of her training. Some days there were three small sessions during the day, some days there was one mega on-court session with the evening dedicated to recovery. “They’ve been good, productive sessions. I am happy with the training and waiting to get on the court [to play at the CWG],” she says.

Her partnership with Sikki Reddy has begun to bloom with both players feeding off each other’s styles of play. Having represented India in many tournaments — including the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 — Ashwini is the more experienced campaigner between the two. But the pairing is built on mutual understanding and open discussion; especially after matches when they converse about their performances.

“We have played for a while now, but we’ve also changed our game styles quite a bit. We have experimented with different kinds of rotation, and that’s given us a good idea as to what works and what doesn’t. Our best style would be when we are on the offence. But at the same time I find that our defence has gotten better too; which helps to change the game,” Ashwini says about her partnership with Sikki Reddy.

Ashwini had a four-week training schedule for the Commonwealth Games
Ashwini had a four-week training schedule for the Commonwealth Games

Having represented India in every major tournament, Ashwini certainly knows what goes into preparing for a multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games.

“Well, I sorta know what to expect. I have an idea of how it feels to play at that level and what’s needed to do well. It makes it easier to visualise and understand how to go about preparing,” she says about being one of the most experienced players of the Indian badminton contingent.

She says the experience of participating in multi-sport events like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Olympics is incomparable because of the energy and excitement that surrounds them. Every time a major multi-sporting event comes around, she looks forward to it because it is a chance to be in the presence of other great athletes such as herself.

“The best part is living at the games village. The atmosphere there is electric. It’s filled with top athletes from various sports, and the feeling of living there along with all the other athletes is very exciting and motivating. You automatically start feeling confident and ready to go. I love it!”

Ashwini will partner with N Sikki Reddy for the 2018 CWG
Ashwini will partner with N Sikki Reddy for the 2018 CWG

The 2018 Commonwealth Games is the first major international tournament for Ashwini in the calendar year. There is a lot of hope that her pairing with Sikki Reddy will bring India a medal at the CWG, and the other tournaments this year. Their partnership is often hailed in the Indian badminton circles as one of the nation’s best hopes for a doubles medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But each tournament leading up to that point is a grooming experience for the pair.

“We do have a packed calendar this year with three major events — the CWG, the World Championship and the Asian Games. I am looking forward to all of them, but currently my entire focus is on the CWG,” she says of her plans for upcoming tournaments.