The possibility of having an Indian woman in the Grand Slam main draw after nine years has all the Indian tennis enthusiasts monitoring the lucky loser situation down under like a hawk. Travelling to Australia as a potential lucky loser, Ankita Raina underwent a strict quarantine regime and also got flex her muscles a bit in the lead-up WTA 500 event in Melbourne. Balaram Dhulipala caught up with Ankita herself on the sidelines of her practice session, where she shares her experiences from WTA event, quarantine and much more. Excerpts-

Q) How was the quarantine? How are you feeling so far coming from the playoffs?

I’m feeling great because I wasn’t sure if I would get to play the first event. So, it’s great that I got into singles and doubles. It is good to get some matches. In singles, I started off well but it ended up a bit rusty and doubles was good, we got a win. I think it was [my] first win at [WTA] 500 level. So that was great. And yesterday the match was very close – we had 5 to 7 games which we lost in deuce. So it was inspiring to see the level of play when we were on court. It felt very different since they [Aoyama/Shibahara] were the third seeds and they have won I think Abu Dhabi recently. So that was a good boost.

Q) Coming into the year, there wasn’t much last year. So what did you do? Practising/working on a specific game plan?

Initially during the lockdown, because India was for a big part of the time we were in lockdown. So that time I was just doing whatever training or exercise I could do at home and apart from that I did some meditation, workshop and small ITF courses, just about tennis history and just watching some matches. In the latter half of the year luckily I got to play some tournaments that I got entry. So I was glad. But it was very tough because we were out of the match zone. So it takes time to get back into that. But then I was very happy to end the year on a winning note. I won doubles and in that tournament, I played a good match in singles against [Katerina] Siniakova. So if you see the bigger picture last year, I have no complaints, considering it was a pandemic and what the whole world went through, I think it was fine.

Q) How does it feel coming from India, looking at the crowds now and playing with crowds? Probably you can go around without masks. So how does that feel?

So that was finally something new because you cannot go without a mask anywhere in the world. But we are still recommended to wear masks as much as we can.  I could feel the difference – I have been here in the qualies last two years and the amount of crowd we had even for qualies. It’s getting started, but [I] kind of miss it here because we have seen it. Australia has such a huge sports culture. So I’m looking forward to next week.

Q) Are you excited for the draw? Do you still need to wait to know whether you are getting into the draw?

Yeah, I think I still need to wait. Usually, I think lucky losers also can happen till before the match goes on the court. Still, I would say it’s a win-win situation because I got to come here. I was really looking forward to that plus I got some matches here in the WTA.

Q) So what are your goals for 2021?

I want to play the main draw of the Slams and try and get into top-100. It all depends on how the situation is going to be from now on and the scheduling plays a big part.

Photos- Balaram Dhulipala

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