Free Press Journal

Grand Slam calling: Ankita to play French Open qualifiers

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Ankita Raina

Mumbai : It’s been an eventful past six months for India’s tennis sensation Ankita Raina. After her quarter-final finish in the Mumbai Open in November, the India No. 1 Ankita played brilliantly in the Fed Cup in February, winning all four of her singles matches including wins over higher-ranked players like Lin Zhu of China and Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, to help India retain their place in the Asia-Oceania Group 1.

  Recently, partnering with Harriet Dart of Great Britain, Ankita clinched doubles title in the ITF women’s tournament in China.

The Ahmedabad girl, who broke into Top-200 achieving career best ranking 181, is all set to complete her childhood dream of playing in the Grand Slam as she will play in the French Open qualifiers on Tuesday.


On her way to France, Ankita told Free Press Journal about her dreams and journey from accompanying her brother to the courts to appearing in the Roland Garros qualifiers.

Excerpts:

How did you take up this sport?

I started when I was four. My mother has always been a sports enthusiast. Back then, sports wasn’t that popular and people wouldn’t want to pursue it as a career.

We had tennis courts right behind our house in Ahmedabad. I have an older brother who used to play there so I would just go with him to hang around. That’s how I picked tennis.

Excitement about playing in the first Grand Slam qualifiers

I’ve always had lot of dreams and goals but, I think playing my first Grand Slam will be a special. Though, I have to qualify first to get in the main event. Even after a week I’m still telling myself everyday that this is finally

happening.

All these years of patience and hard work is paying off. I got news about the qualifiers when I was playing a WTA event in China and actually that day I had lost a tough match so I was upset. But then getting my name in the qualifiers list changed my mood and made me happy.

About preparations

I was home for just three days but it was blissful to be back after seven weeks (from China). I am looking forward to the qualifiers. Yes I did a little work on my footwork and sliding.

Having made number of tours now, can you recall your first

International tour?

The first was actually to Jordan. Because I was just 14, my father had accompanied me. One day, I was travelling to Morocco with only my friend. We both were 14. Nobody was there to understand us when we asked about our station as people there only speak French and Arabic. By the time we realized that we missed our station, the train was already started moving.

Being used to the Indian trains, I ran and pulled the chain until the train came to a halt. But in abroad, until it’s like an emergency you cannot pull chain otherwise you get heavily fined.

The ticket collector came and told us that we have to pay fine of about 6000 dirhams (43 thousand rupees approximately). My friend started crying and seeing her cry I started crying too. He took us to the station master but luckily, he did let us go.

Inclusion in Government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) list after being left out earlier.

I was little upset after being left out from the TOPS earlier, but I take disappointments or a setbacks as a motivating force. Being in the list is very helpful. Now I can bear expenses for one more person, so my coach or physio can accompany me on the tours. WTA events allow on court coaching after each set.

For the ITF events, it’s better to take own physio because the tournament organizers there hire a local physio from that city or country.

So you never know how good or bad they are. If you see the players who are performing week in and week out, they have at least two people with them to take care of the court bookings, practice, food, recovery, massage, transport, hotel, and the list goes on. It’s also an added advantage when you have someone cheering and supporting for you.

Who do you idolise? What would you speak about if you get to meet them during the French Open?

Serena (Williams) and (Rafael) Nadal are my idols. I would request them for a practice session.

Coach Hemant Bendrey’s role in your career

It’s never going to be enough to thank him. Sir has played very important role not only in my tennis career but in other aspects of life as well.

He has been a father figure, mentor, coach and a friend. One of the reasons I’m standing here today, is because he never stopped believing in me. No matter how bad the performance gets, how low I feel mentally and the doubts I have, his belief remains rock solid.

Playing both singles and doubles events

I’ve always played both events, and I will continue to play. I give my 100 per cent once I’m on the court. It does not matter if I am playing singles or doubles match.

Goals in future

As the qualifiers are starting that’s the first thing going in my head at the moment. My aim is to qualify for the main event, though my dream is to win the Grand Slam.

The French Open will be followed by the grass season and the Wimbledon. Then the Asian Games are coming for which I’ve been preparing for more than a year. Ranking-wise I have a target of breaking into Top-150 by end of this year.