Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

We're ready to give our best at the Paris Olympics: Ashwini Ponnappa & Tanisha Crasto

India's No 1 women's badminton pair began playing together only a year ago and have forged a formidable partnership on court. They speak about their training and mindset for the Games, and how the challenges they have faced have made them tougher—as individuals and sportspersons

Published: Jun 20, 2024 11:39:24 AM IST
Updated: Jul 9, 2024 05:08:35 PM IST

(File L to R) Indian players Ashwini Ponnappa with Tanisha Crasto  in action during Yonex Sunrise India Open 2024 Badminton Tournament at IGI Stadium on January 17, 2024 in New Delhi, India.
Image: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images (File L to R) Indian players Ashwini Ponnappa with Tanisha Crasto in action during Yonex Sunrise India Open 2024 Badminton Tournament at IGI Stadium on January 17, 2024 in New Delhi, India. Image: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Q. Tell us about your preparation for the Olympics—mental, physical, emotional—and your training schedules.  
Tanisha Crasto:
Our preparation is going well. We are focussed and disciplined, and spend our energy wisely on recovery, food and rest. We avoid any kind of distractions. Our training schedule is extremely hectic—our day starts at 5 am and our last session ends at 6.30 pm. We come up with different training programmes, so it is a lot of fun. We also watch our matches and analyse our strong points as well as get back to areas where we need to work upon.

Ashwini Ponnappa: Being a badminton player or a sportsperson means discipline goes hand-in-hand. Discipline is what will get you to the top. And discipline is not just about being on time and doing things… it's a whole big package of doing everything that needs to be done for you to do well. And as you get older, you understand it's more and more important to be disciplined… even the smallest things like how you eat, how you warm up, how you cool down and how you look after your body matter. Discipline is essential to get to the top. We have a break for a few days before we get started with our training in full swing. Our coaches have planned a schedule for us. For physical training, both of us are working with our respective strength coaches.  

Q. You’ll partnered a year ago and made it to the Olympics. How did this partnership happen?
We paired up last January. We had a meal together and then decided to play together. We had been wanting to play with each other. Our first tournament as partners was in Indonesia which was a Super 500 and we performed well there… we reached the quarter finals. We gained more confidence, and our hopes went up with each tournament. We worked really hard, were focussed and enjoyed every match and tournament.

Ponnappa: In women’s doubles, it’s important that both the players want to play together. Tanisha and I went for lunch once, and we decided that we would play with each other. We believed we’d do well as a partnership. Before that, though, our coaches had suggested that we play together, but for me, at that time, I needed a break from women’s doubles. I wanted to be sure of the direction where I wanted to go. The break helped me get clarity. Representing India at the Olympics has always been a dream. But I feel for Tanisha and me, it's been a journey which began quite late because the Olympic qualification started in 2023, and we started our partnership last year as well. At that time, the Olympics seemed really far for us as a pair. But the good thing is we gradually played well, and with each experience—we've won tournaments or performed well—the dream of getting to the Olympics seemed more of a possibility. And we managed to make the cut.

Q. What challenges did you’ll have to face?
We played many tournaments without a coach and physios, and at our expense. This was more of a learning opportunity than a challenge, as it helped us become stronger in every aspect. Now things feel easy for us.

Ponnappa: Initially, when we started playing, we were playing on our own… at our own expense. I've been a part of the Indian team for a long time and it was a different [feeling] to not be a part of the team. I felt I should be able to bet on myself and on our partnership. It got us stronger because we were able to travel for tournaments on our own and play on our own—without any coaches, physios, managing our body on our own. Now that we are a part of the team, we are also a lot more grateful for everything that comes our way.

Also read: PV Sindhu on faith, family and the making of a champion

Q. How many sponsors are supporting you’ll individually? Do you feel more corporates can come forward and support badminton?
I have two or three sponsors, and I feel more corporates and organisations should come forward to support badminton. We have amazing emerging talent in badminton in India… we have many talented players with the potential to bring medals for the country, but we are unable to go to the next level as it is financially draining.  

Ponnappa: The sponsors are very few. I’ve been extremely lucky to be employed with ONGC—they have been my biggest supporters since the beginning. I’ve also been fortunate to be with Victor and be a Red Bull athlete for more than a decade. Sponsors don’t come forward much and even if they do, they support a few athletes.

Q. This is your first Olympics. What are the goals you have set for yourself?
As it’s my first Olympics, there’s a whole set of mixed emotions… I am super excited. There are going to be many people rallying behind me. My goal is to go out there and be the best version of myself and put up the best possible performance that I can.

Q.This will be your third Olympics. What is your current mindset?
I’m super grateful and excited to be heading for my third Olympics. The mindset is basically doing everything I can to do my best and to make this Olympics a memorable one.