Harnessing the power of two

Harnessing the power of two

Badminton : Ashwini Bhat and Mithula UK have combined nicely to reap success in the doubles lane

Harnessing the power of two

An innate hostility towards their rivals is something found in most young athletes in a supremely high-achieving sporting world but not often will one see them getting on to be acquaintances, forget being partners and best of friends.

It is this hostility that is often the catalyst that sparks a competitive nature in young athletes, which is why a blossoming friendship between rivals is a rarity in sport.

In their five-year journey, Ashwini Bhat and Mithula UK have broken the mould in this regard, forming one of the deadliest pairings on the junior doubles' circuit in the country.
The Bengaluru girls already possess an impressive trophy cabinet, having won the girls' doubles titles at the State and National level in the under-13, under-15, under-17, and under-19 categories with their most recent under-17 triumph coming at the 15th All-India junior ranking tournament, which concluded last Sunday in Benglauru.

Starting out as unassuming youngsters on the under-10 State circuit, they regularly found themselves on opposite sides of the net, but in 2011 they united for a larger cause, a decision with which both are extremely satisfied. Putting their rivalry aside wasn't too much of an effort for the shuttlers. The enthusiastic pair said it was a spontaneous decision that was easy to stick to once made.

“We have been playing together since 2011 and it started because it was something we knew would help the state. But once that happened we just got along really well,” said the 15-year-old Mithula. “We aren't just best friends, we are more like sisters. It also helps that we spend a lot of time together.”

While Mithula is the more effervescent off the court, Ashwini, rather subdued and measured with her words, is quick with a joke on court.

“I'm someone that is really serious and the thinking type when I'm on court and it helps that I have someone like Ashwini around because she really knows how to lighten the mood,” added Mithula while Ashwini concurred adding, “She really gets into a really serious mode at times during the match and that is when I step in and calm her down.”

The duo has performed exceedingly well from the time they paired up, winning titles at will on the junior and senior circuits. On-court understanding is one aspect that helps and Ashwini felt they shared an instant connection, and understanding has never been an issue.

“Even if we're trailing in a match, we know we have the other's back and just motivate each other. Since we have a very good understanding we ensure we communicate and relax, even if we're irritated,” said Ashwini.

Mithula agreed that Ashwini’s sense of humour helps the pair. “She'll just joke around on court and that helps ease the pressure. Also we are very particular about taking it one point at a time and avoid getting carried away.”

Ashwini and Mithula both train at the Prakash Padukone Academy and while the former is keen on pursuing a career on the singles' circuit as well, the latter stands firm in her ambitions of establishing herself as a doubles specialist.

Both girls enjoy strong support from their families and their parents can often be seen cheering on their wards at various tournaments. Ashwini’s father, K Keshava Bhat is Head of Fulfilment at Buhler while Mithula’s father Umakanth runs a small-scale industry.

Just the right amount of work and play has set these girls apart as they have forged a career without sabotaging academics. Ashwini passed out of the Delhi Public School, South, scoring  a CGPA of 10 in the recently concluded CBSE exams while her on-court ally from Vidya Niketan School was equal to the task, with an 87 percent in the ICSE board exam to her name. Their inseparable relationship looks set to continue as both have enrolled for a commerce course at Jain College.

Asked about their favourite players, Mithula was quick to respond with the names of Chinese shuttler Zhao Yunlei and South Korean Lee Yong-dae while  a bashful Ashwini said it was hard for her to remember the names since they were complicated.

“Yunlei and Yong-dae have really achieved a lot for their respective countries and I'd look up to them as I'd like to make my country proud some day,” said Mithula.

Many young athletes lack the foresight to carve out a distinct path to tread but these girls are more pragmatic in their approach and are simply setting themselves short-term goals. “We don't really like to wander too far into the future while setting ourselves goals. We first want to cement our dominance on the domestic circuit. But if we have to speak of a future plan, playing in the Uber Cup in two years’ time is something we hope to achieve,” concluded the pair.

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