Ankita Raina has been on the professional circuit since 2009 and all her singles wins have come in India in $10K and $25K series. In the ongoing L&T Mumbai Open WTA $125K series at CCI tennis courts, the 24-year-old did a first by crossing the first round in the main draw in a tournament of this magnitude in front of her coach and family.
Ankita surprised herself and her coach with swift movements on the court and adjusted well with the newly introduced balls.
“She moved very well across the court and kept her composure. She is with me since the age of 10 and has been working hard on her game and managing her schedule well,” said her coach Hemant Bendrey who trains her at his Tennis Academy in Pune. Bendrey, an ITF level 3 coach, also coaches Rutuja Bhosale who was Ankita’s doubles partner in the Mumbai Open but were ousted in first round.
“The doubles match I played (on Monday) the coach could work out something in my game and we worked on it. It really helped in my singles match. I had my family, coach and trainer and that definitely makes a huge difference,” Ankita said.
Ankita was the only Indian among four Wild Card recipients in singles to progress in this tournament. She had the experience to play at this level but had never progressed in the main draw. She played in a $125K series in China and $250K series in Tashkent Open and Stuttgart Open last year.
After a bright start, she slowed down in between and had the luxury of the coach to call on court, a thing she badly misses in foreign tournaments.
“They introduced these kind of balls recently, when balls are new I like it but they get heavy after getting old and put a load on the shoulder. I am usually a aggressive and like to play my shots but the coach told me to keep my speed and wait for an opportunity,” Ankita said.
She recalled how lonely she feels while travelling abroad alone. “Otherwise I am always travelling for tournaments, alone, always on my laptop. At this level players don’t interact much and are on their own with their trainers and coaches. I’ve been asked what the key for the next step is and I can state that this is it”.
Ankita, currently ranked 293, achieved a career high ranking of 222 in 2015. She was overtaken by Karman Kaur Thandi as India No 1 recently. “Competition is good and it is even great when more Indians can play similar level of tournaments abroad,” she said.
Eyeing to be in top 150, she felt she has to increase power and at the same time be consistent. “I have been training hard in Pune. When I was playing tournaments in Europe this year I also joined an academy in Spain for a week. As you go higher (in the rankings), you have to adapt. I want to increase my power, but at the same time have consistency. To reach the top 150 or 100 you need lot of intensity,” she said.
Ankita thanked the people who brought a WTA tournament to India after five years. “I thank MSLTA, Amruta Fadnavis for taking great steps for empowering women in sports, Maharashtra government and Sports Authority of Gujarat.”