For the last few years, Saina Nehwal and Indian badminton have been synonymous with each other. The ferocity of the success of the Haryanvi-Hyderabadi hurricane has eclipsed all other elements who too form part of the galaxy of Indian badminton.
The most prominent of them being Jwala Gutta. True to her name, Jwala is fire on court. Her critics would say, her problems with the badminton establishment have arisen because she is fiery off court as well.
“I have always spoken my mind. That doesn’t mean I am a bad person,” reasons Jwala.
“We have been performing despite getting no appreciation. If the doubles players like me, Ashwini, Diju get even 2 per cent of the support and appreciation the Badminton association of India and media gives to Saina Nehwal, we would do much better. Diju and I did not have any sponsors even when we were world number 6. But Saina had sponsors when she was world number 15 and that played a part in her becoming world number 2.”
Jwala is right to a large extent. The BAI and the media have been largely focussed on Saina and her exploits, ignoring other equally commendable achievements on the world badminton stage. Jwala and V Diju till the other day were world number 6 (the ranking has now slipped to 11) and the two make a formidable pair on court.
The Commonwealth Games was Jwala’s chance to show what mettle she is made of. She went into the tournament, fighting “canards” of a link-up with former India cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin and their respective marriages being on the rocks because of this.
“A lot of things were said about me in an attempt to distract me from my game. Now after Ashwini and I won the women doubles gold at the CWG, they have shut up,” says Jwala.
“Did the talk upset you and were you going into every match wanting to prove a point,” I ask.
“I will not say the personal canards bothered me because my family and friends always knew the truth and that helped me relax. Did I go into the court with a point to prove? Well, kind of and that is because I have proved myself time and again. Two years back, when the Badminton Association of India (BAI) had put us out of the team, I and Diju moved in the mixed doubles ranking from world number 89 to 6. It was such a big achievement but not a word of appreciation from the BAI.”
Does the BAI’s alleged step-treatment create a divide between Saina and the rest of the team, I ask Jwala.
“No, not at all. We are all happy for each other. I do not resent Saina’s success. She deserves every bit of it. We only feel bad that when we are also working as hard, the BAI does not bother to push our case. It is quite degrading and one feels very demotivated. If this is the way things continue, no junior would take up doubles badminton. Anyone else in my place would have quit long back,” says Jwala.
Jwala is now preparing for the Asian Games in China with Ashwini and Diju. The level of competition at the Games that start on November 12, will be much more tough than CWG, she admits. “Physically we are very fit, it is mentally that we have to be fit if we are to beat the Chinese,” she says.
As Jwala prepares for her on-court battles, all of India would hope she carries the embers of her fiery form at Delhi to Guangzhou. Time to torch the Great Wall of China, Jwala !