Ankita Raina and Kamilla Rakhimova beat Blinkova/Potapova 2-6 6-4 10-7 to lift the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne – maiden WTA Tour level title for either of them. This victory made it possible for Ankita to enter into the WTA doubles top 100 and become only the third Indian woman to achieve such a rare feat. In conversation with the ITD team, she shared her thoughts and what this meant for her.
Q) This was your first-ever WTA 250 title – how much does it mean for you? You both were there for more than a month in Australia. Thoughts on the match from your perspective and any key moments that must have tilted the momentum?
I think for both of us individually it’s been great, we were there as lucky losers and didn’t get in the singles main draw though I got in doubles and made my debut! But Kamila had a good win even in singles in this tournament against Olga, as she’s a tough one to play against (Olga).
“I have been working on my serve and that’s a process, so it takes time” – Ankita Raina
It was very windy during our match, so tough conditions for all of us but they adjusted to it very quickly and had control over the match, Kamila and I were working hard to find ways to try and play our game but they were very solid and using the wind well. But in the middle of the second set, we somewhere got momentum and became confident! She’s a fighter and so in the super tiebreaker, she really helped and pushed us, as it was going very close! I’m very grateful to have this opportunity and be able to play this Australian summer swing and happy to take a trophy back home. The first WTA title in doubles has come and am sure singles will follow soon.
Q) What do you think worked well in terms of your pairing?
We both play aggressively and fight for every point, that was something similar. Apart from that for the pairing, I feel we picked each other up or could compensate when there were moments where one of us needed it. Kamila hadn’t played doubles since last March, so it can take some time to start feeling it again in doubles and get the sense so in the initial rounds I felt sometimes I had to take charge but in the finals, I felt the roles kind of changed in the crucial moments, she did well. And overall she has an aggressive game, great returns and volleys so that’s important for doubles and got us to the finals!
Q) You both haven’t faced each other in singles or doubles before. How did this pairing come about?
It was just a coincidence, I think was meant to happen! We just got in touch a day before and decided to sign in like 15 mins before the deadline as it was sure we’d get in together but we had been practicing together since Dubai!
Q) When can we expect to see you both play together again next?
Personally, for me I really enjoyed playing with her, she’s fun on court and fights at the same time. Another thing that helped was that she always listens first and then share her opinion if I felt we should try something during the match depending on the situation.
Q) During the pandemic you had mentioned that this is the first time you had such a long off-season and you/your coach decided that you will repeat every year where you will work on your game and conditioning. What do you think you have improved the most on? You had a tough return to the circuit after the pandemic, late last year in singles. How did you keep yourself motivated through that period?
Great question, I’m glad you asked this one! Actually last year with the pandemic, I felt somewhere it gave a whole new perspective to things and generally, felt more passionate about playing tennis and grateful that I could resume when it was the toughest to travel. I was aware and realized that I was getting the opportunity to play and had high expectations to perform well in a short period as I had trained hard (fitness-wise) and felt prepared, that put pressure and takes the mind off the process and things that I needed to focus on to achieve my goals.
“Hitting and speed-wise I think I can match the elite players” – Ankita Raina
After resuming the tour I lost a lot of matches post-pandemic, most of it for the whole 3 months tour. Having said that it’s also tough to find your rhythm and get into match zone. Practice, set practice and match is completely different, and a player can play very well in the warm-up before the match but can absolutely struggle to get into the zone or find the rhythm. So all those losses had a toll mentally and emotionally but at the same time made me stronger too! Even at home, I was working with my psychologist during the lockdown in Pune on my visualization, etc. while I was not able to play tennis and then on the tour during RG I met the WTA psychologist which has also helped a lot in the last couple of months, so I’m really grateful that I’ve such support team around me.
Q) Over the past month in Australia, you’ve been in the group of the most elite athletes now. If you have to do a critical comparison where do you think your game matches up and what are the areas that you need to further work on?
I’ve been working on my serve and that’s a process so it takes time, it’s definitely better but I’m improving on it! Plus it’s something that can be on and off in matches depending on how you also feel physically and also conditions that day, so one cannot just judge it from one or two matches so that’s tough. Being able to come to Australia and play this series is been such a bonus for the same reason that I’ve been practicing with the best of the players, it’s exactly what I’d want to do and be. Hitting and speed-wise I feel I’m able to match them up.
Q) Any memorable experiences over the past month outside of your matches – say in terms of whom you’ve got to train with and so on?
The whole trip has been so memorable, with so many mixed emotions and many firsts that I achieved during this tour. I enjoyed my hits during quarantine with my cohort partner, she was fun and quite chilled so it was easy to plan our sessions, also her coach was the same and that really helped! I think the moment I realized I got into doubles main draw, and the semis and finals of the doubles in WTA 250 were both again very memorable ones! Plus I got to see my idols, Serena, Nadal, Nole – so nothing like that. I felt so motivated when I saw them live or when I had small interactions with them even for a fraction of a second!
Q) Where do you go from here?
I’m heading home and then need to check the schedule to see where I can travel in terms of visa, exemptions, and entry list! Travelling has become very tedious now, it’s not leisure anymore. With protocols changing every week across the world.
Q) A word on your coach Utsav Mukherjee – he has been with you for quite some time now but not much is written about him in the press?
Yes, that’s absolutely true! So he was actually Hemant sir’s student and similar story, he moved from Gujarat (Surat) to Pune for tennis training and later decided to become a coach, started coaching in the academy under Hemant sir. I’ve known him for a really long time since I was a kid as he and my brother used to play in the same age group, He’s been like an older brother to me and has always been there in terms of support, plus the last couple years he’s also working with me so he knows my game and what works and doesn’t work for me! It’s really fun to travel with him and he’s quite chilled so I think that helps during a tournament and I can ask him for anything or any help I require!
Q) You’ve reached the top 100 in rankings now. An iconic milestone from Indian Tennis perspective. Thoughts?
Yes, I feel very elated but this is just another milestone towards my goal and small, little achievements like these give motivation as to how I can improve further, and the confirmation that I’m in the right direction. I’m sure with this performance, the same will follow in singles soon.