Ankita Raina has it in her to be inside the WTA top 100 – echo her nemeses on-, and friends off-the-court.

Ankita Raina, the Indian no. 1 on the WTA singles and doubles circuit, has surely become an inspiration for many Indian girls to take up the racquet and let it do all the talking. Throughout her journey, she has made some wonderful friends, those that she plays against week-in and week-out on the court, and also the same ones she hangs out with immediately after their matches. Team ITD spills the beans from the other-side of her inspiring journey as to what qualities of Ankita, makes her so admirable even for her foes. Read below and find out for yourself!

(Players were asked the following questions: When was the first time you came to know about Ankita, and when you first met her? 
Insights about the first or the most memorable matches played against or with her? Things about her that you like the most or dislike? 
Characteristic features of Ankita that you admire and wish to inculcate?
General friendship on and off WTA/ITF tour?
What are your future predictions for Ankita?)

This is the last article in the series of interviews 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
2. “Face challenges. Do not get bogged down. Do not look back. March ahead despite all the difficulties.” advises Ravinder Krishan Raina ji, father of the Indian no. 1 at WTA Rankings, Ankita Raina
3. Ankur Raina, brother of Indian No.1 Ankita Raina, provides a sibling’s perspective on the inspiring journey of Ankita
4. “There were so many players more talented than her, but her hard work stood out” – Coach Hemant Bendrey on Ankita Raina
5. “She eats, drinks, sleeps, Tennis. Which is what makes her very special” says Krushmi Chhedha, friend and nutritionist of Indian no 1, Ankita Raina
6. “Ankita Raina is a very hardworking and dedicated player. At some point in time, the results are going to come.” – Zeeshan Ali
7. “Ankita Raina’s rise has been a big big boost not just for Ankita but also for most of the Indian girls on the circuit” – Rishika Sunkara

Prerna Bhambri:
I’ve known Ankita since we were about 12 years old. We played the AITA, junior and women’s circuit together, traveling for the same tournaments in India and abroad. 
Its been an absolute pleasure growing up with her, seeing her grow as a person and also to be one of India’s greatest players. We have played against each other countless times in singles and doubles. I’ve always loved playing against Ankita as she never gives up and really pushes her opponents to bring out their best. But I would say, our most cherished times have been during Fed Cup in Thailand in 2016 cheering for each other to get the wins for India. I have really enjoyed being on the same side of the net with her during doubles. Our first doubles tournament together was in Muzzafarnagar in an ITF $25K where we ended up reaching the semis.
Ankita is an idol for a lot of Indian youngsters. I’ve traveled and stayed with her several times. She is a very disciplined and hard-working girl, which is very admirable. I’ve seen her do yoga religiously whether it’s during the tournament or an off day. Not many know that she’s also a great dancer and loves to dance on Bollywood music. 
Tennis is a lonely sport. But it can be made really enjoyable if you make friends on tour. Ankita and I have traveled a lot for the same tournaments. Traveling all year round, I’ve missed a lot of festivals back home but having such fun-loving people like Ankita made even the most boring places a lot of fun. I have several memories of our childhood and Fed Cup days that I’ll always cherish whether it’s celebrating Diwali in Indonesia or dressing up for player-parties during various tournaments.
Ankita has been doing great for the last couple of years. A hard worker that she is, I believe she has the potential to reach greater heights. She is one of the fittest athletes, mentally and physically, and has the ability to compete and be amongst the best players in the world. I wish her all the very best and hope that she achieves all that she dreams of.

Rushmi Chakravarthy:
I met Ankita for the first time in around 2009 when she was a 16 year old just starting to play the women’s circuit. Didn’t know her well back then. She was a quiet girl but one thing I noticed then was that she was a very gritty girl who really wanted to make her way up. I started interacting with her later in 2012 when we played doubles together in an ITF tournament in Bangalore and went in to play quite a few tournaments together from there. In May 2012 we played two events in Delhi. We came through some tough matches and won both events. It was great playing with her. She is someone who will never give up until the last ball is struck and keeps you motivated all the time. We’ve played tournaments where we have walked out for a cup of tea just before the finals and then walked in straight to the court for a march against each other. We shared a good friendship on the tour. 
Ankita is extremely committed to everything that she does. She is always keen to learn and improve. Her belief in herself, discipline, hard work, and never-say-die attitude is something that the future generation players should learn from. Ankita is someone who is extremely friendly and easy to talk to. We’ve had a lot of good times on the tour going for movies, shopping, or going for a coffee (which we liked doing the most). Though we don’t see each other often now, we still keep in touch. Today she is the number 1 singles player in the country, and has won a lot of laurels and yet extremely humble and friendly. That’s something I really like about her and I must say that her mother is someone who has been the biggest influence in her success and the role model that she has turned out to be. I do see Ankita as a top 100 player in women’s singles in the WTA and wish her the very best.

Nidhi Chilmula:
I don’t remember the exact year when I met Ankita, but I do remember the first time I played against her. It was at the U-16 AITA tournament in Kavali (AP).  And the last I played against her was recently at the Jodhpur $25K doubles semis. They were all good matches. Her mental toughness is the most important thing that inspires me. I like how focused and dedicated she is towards her goal, and at the same time how she enjoys little things in her life. We are very good friends. We share common interests, such as dance and movies. I really want to see her in the top 100 of WTA rankings! I hope she achieves her goal soon. 

Rutuja Bhosale:
The first time I heard of Ankita Raina was when I started playing under 14s, I think I knew about her but had never met her. The first time I actually met her was at Delhi at the $10K tournament when I used to practice with Sandeep sir! All my matches against her have been intense, I would particularly say that the match at Pune $25K is the one that I will not forget. She had beaten me when I was a set and something up the year before on the same court. And the next year we were playing there again, and in the final set I went up again and it ended up going into a tiebreak, and this time myself winning it. I still remember some of my friends coming up to me the next day and saying that they thought it is going to repeat of the previous year’s match and laughing about it!
She is really dedicated and patient, I feel, she always wants to get in the extra work and ask questions (a lot sometimes :P). Her patience is something I would like to learn!
We like dancing together a lot! And she is a seafood lover, and if time permits, we go to each other’s houses for that, haha! In general, we are very intense on the court – we go do business, and after that is done it is all about joking around. She has so much experience on the tour, that she knows the ups and downs, and the way she handles it even now is something I like about her! I feel very strongly that she can make it the top 100! And she works very hard for achieving it. So, sooner or later I hope she can!

Natasha Palha:
I first met Ankita at Ramesh Krishnan Tennis Centre in Chennai in 2006! She was amongst the top in the U14-category back then. I remember her as an extremely hardworking girl with a very consistent game. I’ve played Ankita about 10 times or more! But my most memorable moment comes from when I was on the court with Ankita during her match in the Fed Cup tie in Hyderabad in 2015, in front of a packed stadium cheering us on. Definitely her grit, work-ethic, and never-say-die attitude is what inspires all of us. We’ve spent many hours training together at Hemant Bendre Tennis Academy in Pune. We’ve always been very supportive and kept pushing each other on the court. All in all, we are great friends and have had many fun moments on and off the court. I’m always inspired by the faith she has towards God and the confidence that she has in herself. Her performances being a display of both these wonderful qualities. From the fighter that she is, she surely will achieve all the goals she has set her mind on.

Ankita, Natasha and their starstruck moment with the Legend Vishwanathan Anand!

Dhruthi Venugopal:
True grit, determination, concentration, and the will-to-win symbolizes Ankita. She is one of the fittest people we have on the circuit. Ankita as I know from my association with her in the ONGC group as well as playing for India in the Asian Indoor Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, signifies her determination and fighting qualities on the tennis court. Her will to get better and be the best she can be, no matter what and never-give-up attitude is something everyone can look up to and learn from. 
Off the court, she is affable, and one of the nicest people! She’s humble and down to earth! With her determination, work ethic, and discipline, I am sure she will definitely go further up in the rankings and achieve bigger heights. Wishing her all the best, always! 

Zeel Desai:
I don’t really remember when I first heard of Ankita because it was a long time back, but yes I first spoke to her in a local event in Gujarat, and I first played with her in the same event. I have played against her once in a local tournament and once I have played doubles with her in an oil company tournament. Apart from that, we have had hits many times and it is always fun with her. She always gives me advice as my senior. She is a very hardworking, dedicated, and nice person, so that’s what I like to follow about her. Yes, we share a good bond on and off the court, we have been for dinner together and had some funny moments and dance. She always treats me like a young sister and always gives me advice regarding my game and she is very down to earth person. She is doing good, and she has always done well, and I think she will do well in the future too.

Mahak Jain:
I have never played against her. But being a part of the Fed Cup team with her was amazing. She’s very mature and responsible.

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