“This phase is going to make me stronger and better” – Ankita Raina

An informal interview with Ankita Raina at the Player’s Lounge after her unfortunate early exit in Round 1 of both the singles and doubles of the 2022 Chennai Open WTA 250 tournament. Indian Tennis Daily member Srividya had the opportunity along with a small group of individuals to ask about her experience. 

First of all thoughts on the WTA event coming back to India and Chennai?

It’s great! This is what we need. I really hope we have this as a regular event on the calendar. This is the level that we want to get to and we want to play because these are the players that are there in the qualifying of grand slams. So I think it’s a very big boost. And once you start playing regularly at this level, then it definitely helps to get better, even to make results and improve the game.

So today’s doubles match, the first set did not go your way, but you won the second set before the momentum suddenly shifted. Your partner left the court fuming. What happened in the second set and did you get a chance to talk to her after the match?

Yeah, I mean, there’s too much adrenaline rush. And she was pissed off because we had the match. But, in doubles, the match changes from one point. Second set we were doing the right things. But it was also windy. I had one volley which I didn’t expect would go out because we were against the wind, but it happens sometimes.

Your thoughts on the overall tournament? You weren’t able to win a round in singles or doubles. And also, like you mentioned, we need to have more of these tournaments. But do you think we also need to have more say 125K’s or 100K’s in India, so that there’s a gradual increase, and women can keep competing and gradually move up the ladder?

I mean, firstly, it’s great that we are having this event. Big thanks to the TNTA and the sponsors who made this possible. At the 250 level, it was the first one. We’ve had 125 before, but I just feel having any of these tournaments, and if we have them consistently will help players to get to that level. We mostly see the countries who have slams, and they have these events, WTA events as well. And the upcoming players or the local players when they have the chance to play you’re at home and you have the support from the crowd you do well. It does help.

I wanted to do better results wise. But I had a strong first round and Tatjana is an experienced player who has been in good form recently. I had chances in quite a lot of games which I couldn’t convert, but I just felt that those points, she didn’t give those points. She played those crucial points really well. She’s tough to play. She’s a tricky player. In women’s tennis we all know there are very few players who play this kind of game. I tried to do as much as I could, but she played well. She made the semis of Wimbledon. So, at some point I am going to have to accept that as well. 

What’s your goal for the rest of the season and what are the events you are looking to do?

Short term, we have Asian Games next year. I’ve won the bronze medal in singles in 2018. So I want to upgrade that medal. In the long run, preparing for Olympics 2024. The other thing is obviously getting back my ranking, playing qualifying of Grand Slams again. In the end, the goal is to play the main draw of the Slams. So I’ve had the experience, and I’ve played the qualifying of the Grand Slams, the next thing would be to get into the main draw.

A lot of players talk about how it’s a process of ups and downs. But is it easy to believe in your talent after early losses and rankings dropping? When there is a downward trend in the rankings, how do you keep going and motivate yourself?

See, both the good and the bad, it’s going to be a phase. I mean, even if you’re having a good run, it will end at one point right? In tough times, that’s how I think. I just think that this is the time that is going to make me stronger and better. To take a few steps forward, you have to take a step back. However, it’s easier said than done. But I think that’s what sport teaches us at a very early age, which usually people experience at a later age, I feel. But then you sit down with your team and think what are the things that you need to improve. And I think there are maybe a couple of aspects which I’ve improved, but this year too many things happened at once. I got COVID twice. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I got it twice within four months. Then when I was defending or about to lose a lot of points, which was at the beginning of the year during the Austrian Open in January, before that event I got COVID. So I went to the Australian Open without being prepared. And then I had to take a month and a half just to train. I started February in Kazakhstan. Performance in Australia was quite good, decent, because I made some points there. I had some matches and I started feeling better. And then I think in a few weeks, I got COVID again. Just after I played Billie Jean King Cup, I got it again. The second time was bad. 

Sania has announced that she’s going to retire or maybe after a few months. So if you can tell us how it was  looking up to her as the leader for Indian women’s tennis. What do you think her impact has been? 

Her impact has been really huge. We don’t even have to think about it. She is an icon for what she’s achieved in Tennis. People mostly talk about doubles, but singles she’s been top 30. I think a lot of people don’t know that and they don’t consider that. So when I was growing up, when I was in juniors doing national events in India, she was the number one. She was the trail blazer. I looked up to her, and I was like, I want to be Indian number one someday. I also remember when she was about to play Serena in one of the slams, they were showing it on TV. She’s been a huge inspiration for all of us.

From looking up to her, then being fortunate enough to share a court with her and I also played against her last year in Mixed Doubles. That was, something I never imagined would happen. I can say it was a historic match, because there were four Indians at Wimbledon. So yeah, I’m very grateful that I’ve had that experience being able to share a court with the legend. 

Can you talk a little bit about playing in Chennai conditions?

I think I actually like these conditions. Regardless of the result I’ve had this week, I’ve played here before even in juniors, I won the junior nationals. When I started the professional circuit, I won ITF $10K here. Also, I would like to mention that I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad. So, as a kid, after school I used to train there probably at two or three o’clock, even in the summers. 

Photos from the WTA Chennai Open – Featuring Ankita Raina

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