The bronze medal at the World Badminton Championships in London last week should at least result in recognition and sponsorship for the less heralded doubles event in Indian badminton, says Jwala Gutta, who finished in third place along with partner Ashwini Ponnappa.
Arguably India’s only doubles specialist, Gutta now has prizes to show in both mixed doubles and women’s doubles in a sport that is getting a second lease of fame in the country thanks to Saina Nehwal, among others. Last year, Gutta and Ponnappa won gold in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi.
Gutta says her performances so far have not attracted any attention, but hopes a world championship medal, “which is just like the Olympics”, will turn the tide for her and her colleagues.
“Doubles is a specialist sport in which India has not done well traditionally. I hope our success will show the way to juniors as well as the association, media and sponsors to encourage this event like they do to the singles format,” she says over the phone from London.
“Our win at the CWG put us on the sports map, gave us a name, people knew us as Ashwini and Jwala. Except that, nothing much happened,” says Ponnappa, who has returned to India.
The doubles medal is India’s first at the World Badminton Championship in 28 years, after Prakash Padukone won a bronze in Denmark in 1983.
“We were expecting to do well and maybe upset a few seeded players, but what we did was unbelievable, and we were just ecstatic. Beating the second seeds was the turning point. After that, we were determined and knew we were capable of going further. We just kept focus,” Gutta says.
Gutta and Ponnappa registered the biggest upset of their career when they beat second seeds Wen Hsing Cheng and Yu Chin Chien of Chinese Taipei in straight games in the second round. They punched above their weight all through the tournament, first beating 11th seeds Lok Yan Poon and Ying Suet Tse of Hong Kong and then defeating 12th seeds Vita Marissa and Nadya Melati of Indonesia to enter the women’s doubles semi-finals in London. They lost 14-21, 16-21 to fifth seeds Qing Tian and Yunlei Zhao of China in the semi-final.
Gutta says the Chinese were simply better prepared. “Ashwini and I are never satisfied. We played a hard-fought match but they were just better prepared. Silly mistakes like unforced errors cost us,” she says.
Doubles strength: Jwala Gutta (left) and Ashwini Ponnappa. Getty Images
“You can’t possibly make those mistakes against the Chinese,” says Ponnappa.
Though disappointed at the loss, Gutta says the focus is now on tournaments such as the China Open and the Japan Open, which start in September.
“The coaches and trainers have made a programme for us, and we will start training once I come back from London. We have an Indonesian coach working with us to help us go that one step further,” says Gutta.
The win in the world championships was also important because the London Olympics 2012 event will be held at the same venue.
Gutta and Ponnappa have been playing together for around two-and-a-half years, and believe they have it in them to be the world No. 1 pair some day. “We just need to be clever on the court and more consistent,” says Gutta.
Ponnappa adds: “Currently we are one of the best offensive pairs in the world. It is only the defensive aspect of the game that we need to work upon and improve.”