It was like an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa were on game point in the third game of their women’s doubles encounter against Chien and Cheng of Chinese Taipei. When the delicate drop shot did the trick, Jwala let out a shriek, which conveyed relief, ecstasy and happiness together. She, like anyone watching the match, knew it could have gone either way as the four players exhibited top-class badminton in this group encounter at the Wembley Arena on Monday evening.
Less than 24 hours later, Jwala wasn’t breathing fire. Playing the last – and inconsequential – match of her mixed doubles with V Diju, it was obvious that her jugalbandi with the Kerala shuttler has been out of tune at the London Olympics. The duo lost all their three matches and Diju is now a tourist in London.
Former National coach S M Arif minced no words in expressing his unhappiness over the performance of the mixed doubles team. “Diju was completely lost and was playing soft strokes where as the job of the male player in mixed doubles is to cover the court more and hit smashes and create opportunities for his partner,” he rued.
In sharp contrast, Jwala in Ashwini’s company looked like a woman with a mission. The women in red were constantly talking to each other, motivating each other, fighting for each point as if their life depended on it. They are on familiar terrain. It was here at the Wembley Arena that the duo won the bronze at the World championship exactly a year ago. And an encore should be temptation enough for them to give it their all.
And sure enough Ashwini with her hard hits, that clock 260 km/hour and Jwala triumphed over their nerves on Monday to keep themselves in contention for a knockout berth. They still have one last encounter to go, again a must-win situation. It would be such a tragedy if Jwala and Ashwini are unable to show big match temperament and lift their game.
(T S Sudhir is the author of `Saina Nehwal : An Inspirational Biography’)