Ankita Raina has become a household name for all the Indian tennis fans who follow the sport. She has been steadily climbing up the singles and doubles WTA rankings over the years, and has managed to stay atop the charts for a very long time. Known for her grit and determination, and pulling off upsets while it matters the most – playing for the Tricolor. Her father sheds some light on her childhood, and all those qualities that has made the woman of substance that she is today!
These are series of articles going in-depth into the journey of Ankita Raina, the Indian no.1 in singles and doubles on the WTA Rankings. Find out more from the previous articles here.
1. “She is waiting for her opportunity. And it will come – sooner or later” – Lalita Raina ji, sharing a mother’s perspective, on the tennis journey of Ankita Raina
The articles will also be available for read on http://www.scroll.in – a popular Indian news website.
What role did you and your family play in Ankita’s journey?
Like every parent we tried to give Ankita every possible form of support – be it physical, mental, moral, or financial, wherever it was required and possible especially once we did realize that she has both the right attitude and aptitude towards the game.
When did you first realize of Ankita potential?
When Ankita was playing under-10 National ranking tournaments, she was performing better as compared to other players both at State Level and National Level, so we did guess she can go ahead in this field.
Can you shed a little light on her childhood?
Ankita Raina has been a very good, well-behaved, diligent and witty child right from her childhood. She used to sacrifice her sleep for practice in the early morning, attending school and later private tuition after the school, and then practice again in the evening, and sometimes dance classes during the weekdays.
Besides, Ankita Raina has been a very courageous, bold, and dedicated girl throughout her childhood and continues to be so. Worthy to mention, Ankita used to juggle between two auto-rickshaws and one bus, all by herself, both in the morning and evening during the practice sessions at the age of 13. She started to travel alone from the age of 13 on the International circuit, as the company of any single parent could have added to expenses which was not affordable for the salaried-class parents.
How and when did she decide to pursue Tennis as a sport? Did you ever think that she would become a professional player?
When Ankita was performing very well during the Asian juniors ranking tournaments, and was declared by the Asian Tennis Association as the ‘Player of the year 2014’ and subsequently emerged as the ‘runner-up’ at the Asian Junior’s Championship held at Melbourne, Australia, it reinforced her zeal towards the game and our hopes also kindled up that – one day Ankita Raina will emerge as a world champion in tennis.
Did she receive a lot of support from your extended family? Did anyone persuade you and your wife or Ankita from not going along this path?
Ankita got physical, moral encouragement and help from grandparents in the childhood particularly. In fact, all the relatives from the parental side tried to encourage her and did not dissuade her in any way.
Growing up, how did she balance school and tennis training?
Very tough situation for the child as well as parents, but by God’s grace as both the sides, that is, the child and the parents have been hard working right from the very beginning, so did manage the things very well. Worthy to mention,Ankita Raina has been good at studies also securing more than 50% in the exams. and has not lapsed any academic year except one during Graduation as
she was not able to appear in the exam because of an important tournament during that period which she could not have missed.
Based on reports I read, Ankita and her mother stay in Pune for training. How difficult has this arrangement been for you and your family?
This is a very difficult, striving phase for everybody in the family – the father, mother and even children physically, mentally, financially but the only solace is that Ankita Raina is marching ahead despite all the hurdles.
Tennis is an expensive sport. How did you support her all through these years?
As rightly put, I do observe that the game needs lot of time, lot of efforts and lot of financial backing. While the first two requisites – time and efforts – we could somehow manage, the third aspect – finances – was a very difficult part. When
Ankita grew up and started performing well, travel on International circuit for tournaments became necessary. So, we started looking for the avenues, due to which we tried seeking help through several business corporates, although nobody even responded – except one (regarding whom I had an intuition), respected Mr. Janamjay Vyas, M.D. Dishman Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals,whose help at that stage became very crucial for Ankita’s future. (May god bless Mr. Janamjay Vyas sir!)
After winning the Women’s Nationals, Lakshya Foundation (Sunder Iyerji) was te first to come forward and support her. In the later years, when Ankita started performing at higher levels, consequently demands for more International tournaments soar up, involving the huge expenses. We approached our worthy Hon’ble Narendrabhai Modi, the then C.M. of Gujarat State and currently Hon’ble P.M. of India , who gave a patient hearing and assured needful help in the matter with the result he designed ‘Shaktidoot Yojana’, for all the top players of Gujarat which covers the major expenses of the players only (not any support staff/parents), which came as a great blessing and due to which sports scenario has improved a lot in Gujarat/India. It is thus due to support of Hon’ble P.M. Mr. Narendrabhai Modi and Sports Authority of Gujarat that Ankita Raina is marching ahead.
What are some of the challenges that she had to overcome so far to reach where she is?
As mentioned earlier, arranging finances was a difficult job. Besides, managing studies while continuing sports was also a tough task but God has helped Ankita at every step.
I’ve noticed that Ankita trained with Mr. Hemant Bendrey for many years. Has she ever considered training abroad?
Mr. Hemant Bendrey is a coach, by God’s grace who is more dedicated towards the progress of the players rather than any other part including money matters. Mr. Bendrey is always ready to help his players out of his way, a man of integrity and very good mental and moral conduct. It was initially very difficult to get Ankita trained under him as he trains only limited number of players. It is only after the persuasion of Ankita’s mummy Ms. Lalita Raina, brother Ankur Raina with respected Bendrey Sir’s esteemed mummy & esteemed wife that finally Bendrey sir agreed to train Ankita, and I accompanied Ankita to Pune and got her admitted there .
Ankita and the whole family has every trust in him. We, do act only as per his advice and never interfere in the matters. So far, I believe he never found any need for Ankita’s training abroad and we equally believe that when Bendrey sir is here, there is no need. If need arises, he will definitely advise without any second thoughts and Ankita will follow the same.
She has achieved a lot for her country. What achievements of hers are you most proud of?
Ankita’s untiring efforts, courage and boldness has made it possible for her to shine. Out of all her achievements, Ankita’s bronze medal in women’s singles category at the Asiad 2018, Ankita’s victory in all the Fed-cup matches, especially 2018, and runners –up at the Asian Junior’s Championship 2007, top the list.
If you had to change something about her training during her formative years, what would it be?
Being a layman regarding Sports, this is an area which only her coach ca reply except that I feel it would have been more fruitful for Ankita if she had participated in International tournaments at an earlier stage had been there any sponsors during that period.
As parents, what is some advice you can give to other parents?
Allow children to follow their passion, inculcate discipline, good manners, good behaviour and make your children good human beings firstly, before anything else.
What advice do you have for the upcoming players who are aspiring to play at
the highest levels?
Face challenges. Do not get bogged down. Do not look back. March ahead despite all the difficulties. “God helps those who help themselves”. Hard work and good behavior never goes unrewarded.
What are the next set of goals for Ankita and what do you think she needs to do to achieve those goals?
Indeed, her next goal is and should be to emerge as an Olympic Champion/ World Champion, for which she has to put more efforts and discipline in her schedule, and also needs some financial support from some sponsors to cover the expenses of the support staff during the tournaments, which also plays a vital role at the higher level, as all the top players have always a support staff in the form of coach, trainer, physiotherapist, parents or sometimes even a psychologist, which currently Ankita is not in a position to afford.