Coming from her recent success at the Fed Cup & qualifying for world group play-offs, Ankita caught with me to discuss her recent success in 2020 & how 2019 was a motivating year for her.

In Fed Cup, Ankita combined with Sania Mirza helped India to the World Group play-off by winning the decisive doubles battle by beating Indonesia 2-1 in the Fed Cup Asia-Oceania group-1 women’s tennis tournament in Dubai. It wasn’t easy especially after the first loss to China, who topped the table. 

Climax can’t get better than this, and the entire team rose to the occassion by qualifying to the play-off for the first time in the history of Indian women’s tennis.

A cracking start to 2020. Can’t get better than that. Isn’t it? It’s a twin win on a trot in Thailand & your 10th career singles title. This win will serve as a huge confidence-booster for you stepping into 2020, especially after loss against Romania’s Patricia Maria Țig at the ITF Australian Championships semi-final & Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova in the Australian Open qualifiers. Please share with readers about this journey. How did you plan for it?

Yes…!! Start has been really good, just took off from last year where I ended up winning both singles and doubles in Solapur. Against Patricia, it was a close match 4-6, 4-6 but was a good fight. Just got a bit unlucky in Australian open as my match was on the day when there was a lot of smoke due to the bush fires, of course it was the same for all players but I felt problems with breathing and in chest, didn’t feel normal physically so I had to even take medical break.

Ankita with her coach Mr. Hemant Bendrey in Melbourne during the Australian Open 2020

I was happy with my trip to Thailand. I had good 3 weeks, played well and was happy to continue my form. I was just a bit disappointed with the singles match that I lost against the Polish girl in Thailand Open.  I was very sure I would win that one, unfortunately I got heat stroke and probably I also hadn’t recovered well after two hectic weeks & more than that for the travel I had to do back to India, just for couple hours to extend my Thai visa.

In Doubles, there’s a lot of improvement, playing good and having good results as well. I’ve been playing good from ad court for the last year and half or two.  Rosalie & Bibiane both like to play from deuce court. Bibiane is very relaxed on court and quite funny, also we know each other off court since a couple years now so that helps.

With Rosie, I’ve just known her well since last year but I really enjoy with her on and off court, her carefree attitude is what I admire the most and would like to adapt that quality.

You got better of France’s Chloé Paquet in Singles and it was a great contest to watch. And in Doubles how was it sharing the platform with a Dutch partner. 

I had played her before once last year and it was a pretty close match, if I’m not wrong the score was 5-7 final set. I knew what to expect and was prepared for it. She has a big serve and so I was glad in the second set I broke her serve especially on crucial games.

Ankita with her Mother Lalita Raina at ITF Pro Circuit 2020, Thailand

Doubles I won both the weeks with Bibiane Schoofs, I was supposed to play the second week there as I was scheduled to play the Fed Cup in China which got postponed last moment and coincidentally she wasn’t fixed with any partner, so then we decided to play the next week as well. Bibi and I’ve played together and had good results so we are very confident as a pair and know what to expect when.

Tell us about how 2019 went by and your further ambitions for 2020.

2019 was one of my best years so far I can say, as I played all the grand slams and I had two great wins against players who have been former grand slam champions and finalists. It was a great confidence booster for me to step into the next level to get into 2020. Looking forward to it, keeping the momentum going, and hoping to make it to the main draw of the slams. 

2020 is going to be exciting for sure. Tennis is an individual sport; Fed Cup is a platform where we come together as one national team and play with that spirit. The team rose to the occassion by qualifying to the play-off for the first time in the history of Indian women’s tennis. The enthusiasm is very high during such events. Also my best performance has always come when playing for the flag. I had played with Sania before in Thailand in the 2016 fed cup, where we won the match and tie. 

Ankita during Fed Cup 2020 in Dubai

Tell us about your hobbies, anything else you like after tennis & where you spend your time.

I enjoy dancing, music (mostly Bollywood & Punjabi) and reading. But since the travel has increased, I hardly get time with family so I try and keep everything aside once I’m back home to spend quality time with them. If I am in Pune, I train almost all the days as I don’t get much to be here and sessions with coach. Practice is very rigorous too. Hemant Sir and Gaurav generally plan out & they suggest what’s best to focus on specially coming after the tournaments.

Tell us about your journey from Ahmedabad to Pune, your early days & how was it to manage yourself from such an early age?

My parents originally belong to Kashmir. Yes, I personally have been born & brought up in Ahmedabad and even did my schooling in Ahmedabad itself . For tennis training, we moved to Pune sometime around in 2007. My mother used to get me and my older brother here sometimes during summer vacations, when I was 10-12 years. Later when I turned 13-14 years of age, my brother suggested that it’ll be vital for further growth in the game, to move our base to Pune as it was getting tricky if my coach made some changes in the game and once I was back home I would go back to playing with the previous game style.

Ankita with her Parents – Ravinder Kishen Raina & Lalita Raina

Now, when I see a 12 year old, I have a flashback of my childhood. I feel a bit surprised and at the same time proud of myself that I’ve traveled all by myself at such a young age, of course without the support of my parents it would be impossible but sometimes I’m amazed by the courage of my mother who let her daughter out in pursuit of her dreams. It was difficult initially, to travel alone and manage everything by yourself while playing matches but we didn’t have another option and now when I look back I wouldn’t want to change anything, I think it happened for the best. It made me strong, independent and I have grown as a person due to those experiences. We travel back and forth to Ahmedabad whenever I’m back in India.

You got felicitated recently by Gujarat state govt.

It so happened that I was in Ahmedabad at that time. Otherwise due to travels, we tend to miss it. Thankfully it was year-end, and I was around, so was great to attend the felicitation.  Extremely grateful to have been felicitated by Honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Vijay Rupani Sir. Every athlete feels appreciated when they are being felicitated and I think it’s important.

High on engagements in 2019.  Lots of travel. How did you prepare for it?

When I started 2019, I actually didn’t have a pre season but had been playing lots of matches the previous year so was in match zone. Also at this ranking you need to play 25-30 tournaments a year, a lot of people don’t know that we defend points from the previous year and so to better our rankings the travelling schedule is so hectic. We do roughly have an idea about our schedule beforehand but sometimes we need to change or extend it depending on performance and other factor, which we don’t know well before but that’s a part of our job.

Frankly, I have been doing this for couple of years, so I’m used to it now. If a trainer or physio is coming on a tournament, it gets easier & they are helpful with training and most importantly post match recovery. But otherwise, as players we learn to accommodate and adjust as per whatever facilities is provided to us in the country. Sometimes we play ITF or WTA or Grand slams, the fitment is different, so we have to adapt to the formats and situations.

2019 ended with TPL & ITF. Tell us about your TPL 2019 journey.

I was in China during the auction. Didn’t know much about auction. Only came to know about it, post the auction. I had played another league in Pune couple years back, which was also fun and exciting but the format was little different.

TPL was a fun week especially because it was home in India. Its necessary and I’m happy we finally have this concept in Tennis as well. It will help the sport, upcoming players to show their talent and good exposure. It’s a different atmosphere since it’s a team event, where you have team owners, coach, juniors, everyone is cheering and supporting you. Otherwise, we are normally on our own on tours. Players come from different background, cultures, states playing together, it’s a great learning experience too.

My team was Delhi Binny’s Brigade, & I really enjoyed the overall experience even though we didn’t win the league. I had a knee strain from previous week which happened at Solapur during the ITF.

TPL and ITF Back to Back. Wasn’t it too close? 

It could have been chosen some other week, as we had ITFs as well clashing during the same time in India but I do understand that it was tough for them to pick a week as well, where all the Indian players were available and lot other things to make the league a success. But I am sure, next time it will get better.

TPL attracting more Indian & even Foreign players in future. Open to that idea?

Idea is to help the Indian players so that will be a great thing to do. It helps and promotes the local players. Getting in foreigners will give good exposure, experience and will raise the competition as well but not at the cost of reducing the budget. In fact, the budget should increase every year because the priority is to benefit Indian players and make tennis bigger in India.

About the Facilities here & the support.

I feel it’s necessary to have a good , positive atmosphere around at your work place. I was travelling a lot in 2019 so didn’t get much time to train at PYC. I have been coming here since 2006-07.

Ankita at the PYC Gymkhana, Pune.

The best part is that all the facilities are at the club so it’s very convenient here  and I think it’s very helpful for players if everything is at one location. We have a great gym, pool, cricket ground and the entire ecosystem which a player will need, so that we don’t have to waste time and energy going elsewhere. 

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