Ashwini, Tanisha seek more momentum after Paris qualification - Hindustan Times
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Ashwini, Tanisha seek more momentum after Paris qualification

May 05, 2024 12:29 AM IST

India’s No.1 women’s badminton doubles pair has made light of a 13-year age gap as they keep chasing new ways to improve

When Ashwini Ponnappa took a break after the 2022 World Championships, many came up to her thinking she had retired. “It stung a bit. When you’re putting in the work and not getting anywhere, it’s not the nicest thing to hear, especially when you are actively training and playing,” says the 34-year-old.

 Tanisha Crasto and Ashwini Ponnappa
Tanisha Crasto and Ashwini Ponnappa

After her highly fruitful partnership with Jwala Gutta, who retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ashwini teamed up with N Sikki Reddy for six years, but they couldn’t win a title leading to a split. “It is hard to imagine that I continued playing for years without having won a tournament,” adds Ashwini.

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Tanisha Crasto, who turns 21 on Sunday, had split with Shruti Mishra in September 2022 after failing to click together.

Unsure of their future, Ashwini and Tanisha went for a meal in December 2022 when they felt they could give it a try. For Ashwini, in the twilight of her career, it was the last shot at glory. For Tanisha, it was a great opportunity to learn from a seasoned player who won a world championships bronze with Jwala besides two Uber Cup bronze medals. “My goal has always been to learn as much as I can from her. I wanted to grasp everything I could from her," says Tanisha.

Though they reached the quarter-finals in their first tournament – Indonesia Masters in January 2023 – the next few outings were disappointing with early exits. As they were a new pair, they were also travelling on their own without support, which made things more difficult.

Things started to change in June last year. Playing in a smaller tournament – Nantes International Challenge – they came from behind in many matches to win the title.

They rectified their mistakes on court, slowly growing as a pair. They reached four more finals last year, winning two, becoming the country’s No.2 women’s pair, behind Treesa Jolly and P Gayatri Gopichand.

“We got some good wins at the right time. As we were starting from scratch, we didn’t have a lot pressure or expectation. We were also new as a pair so no one knew what to expect,” says Ashwini.

“Tanisha’s explosiveness and my power from the back really helps; and both of us are agile on court. Overall, we combine very well.”

Apart from the five finals and three titles, Tanisha and Ashwini also had upset wins over top 10 pairs and in the process also overtook Treesa and Gayatri, who were India No.1 for three years. They reached their highest ranking of world No.18 in January, having started at No.161 a year back.

Their journey reached an important point on Tuesday when they qualified for the Paris Olympics, which will be Ashwini’s third and Tanisha’s first.

“We didn’t start playing together thinking we have to make it to the Olympics. I clearly remember didi said to give it a shot and who knows we might make it. And now we have,” says Tanisha. “Who knew the small wins would actually add up to the big picture. From Nantes we built a good amount of confidence. We started winning and that's what changed everything.”

Tanisha being a natural front court player and Ashwini’s 15-year experience as a back court smasher is working wonders for them. “What gave us confidence was the ability to convert our game style during a match. When our attack wasn’t working, we switched to defence after we lost the first game and then won the next two,” says Ashwini.

“There is always loads of room for improvement. We need to get more systematic in our attack. I have a good half smash, Tanisha has got good reflexes and is very quick on her feet at the net, but there are times when we get confused while attacking. We need to be a little bit more structured in that area," says Ashwini. “It is a never-ending process.”

Ashwini says she is enjoying her late badminton career. “I am calm, in a happier space than when I was in those years when things weren’t going well. Now I am motivated, I like getting on the court, I like working. I don’t have to push myself because I like it. That’s the difference.”

The pair will play in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia (May-June) before undergoing 5-6 weeks of intense training for the Olympics. “We need the training but also good match practice because we will be playing almost the same players at the Olympics,” Tanisha says.

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