Akanksha Nitture on UTR, playing against Emma Raducanu, transitioning from junior to women’s tour and her coaching team

Akanksha Nitture

When it comes to female tennis Champions in India, many top players have been emerging from the state of Maharashtra. There is an established Women’s player in Rutuja Bhosale and there is an established Girls’ player in Vaishnavi Adkar. And now there is a 19-year-old athlete Akanksha Nitture (AN) who is going deep in tournaments and climbing the ranks! As per the latest WTA rankings (week of 7 November 2022), Akanksha is No. 15 in singles standing in India. I got a chance to speak to her at the first-ever UTR Pro Tennis Tour (PTT) event in India – the PTT $25K India Women which took place on the grounds of Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA). Here’s what we spoke about –

Q: Hi Akanksha! Welcome to ITD. How has the experience of playing your first UTR tourney been so far?

AN: It’s been amazing! It is a new event and many good players are playing here this week. We get to play a lot of matches throughout the week. So since many ITF tournaments are coming up – this preparation is good. 

Q: The prize money here is much higher than on regular domestic tourneys. How important from your perspective is that to support domestic players?

AN: It’s definitely important. Even when we travel across India for domestic tournaments, it’s expensive. So if we do well here, it will help us cover our travels as well as foreign flights.

Q: Your father Mr Dileep Nitture was influential in your getting into tennis. Can you talk about that and your current coaching team?

AN: It was decided that I was going to play tennis before I was born (laughs). I started with my father who helped me become Maharashtra No. 1 in juniors. To become a pro, I started training at ASA Tennis Academy in Navi Mumbai under ASA coaches. My coaches are Alpesh Gaikwad, Shekhar Tompe and Arun Bhosale. It’s been 8 years now and it’s good over there – I like it. 

Q: You only played four ITF events in your entire junior career, skipping many events in India. What was the thought process?

AN: It’s always been my father who decides which tournaments I play. He’s made all the plans. So he planned to start playing the women’s circuit – the ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour sooner and not waste our valuable time and money in the junior circuit. So in juniors, I mostly played the AITA tournaments whichever were nearby and the Nationals of course. So by just playing them, I was India No. 2 in juniors. We didn’t spend much time on the ITF World Tennis Tour Juniors because we didn’t think it was so important for making it into the pro circuit. 

Q: Back in 2019 Pune – you played against the 2021 US Open Champion Emma Raducanu – any memories from that match? Did you realise that she could become that big?

AN: Everybody asks me the same question (laughs)! That match was crazy! She was all over the court and I could not do anything. I lost 1-6, 0-6 or something but my dad at that time had said to me that Raducanu will do well soon because he thought something was really special about her game – she had terrific control of the balls, and great power and aggression.      

Q: In the very next tourney in Navi Mumbai, you had a close match against top-250 player Valeriya Strakhova: Was that a huge confidence booster?

AN: I didn’t know about her ranking before the match. But when I got to know, I felt good. It was a good point to note. I put all my efforts into that match and understood I could do better in the future.  

Q: Funding has always been a big issue for your career. Has winning the Khelo Games & National U18 title in Chennai made any difference?

AN: Actually, no. That wasn’t helpful, to be honest. We had to meet many people and we have approached so many over the years. Now somehow I’ve got two sponsors. But we struggled a lot. Even when I was India No. 2 in juniors, nobody was interested in helping us. I feel like a lot of players in Pune have managed to get sponsorships but in Mumbai, it’s more difficult to get sponsorships. Even Mihika (Yadav) did not have a sponsor and she had done so well. But I continued to play and now I feel like things are coming together. My two current sponsors are Sachin Nanavati sir of Nanavati Hospitals – my Tunisia tour was sponsored by them and recently Lakshya Institute came on board – this UTR is my first tournament with them. 

Q: You had your first-ever experience of playing abroad in Monastir recently. How was the overall experience of playing there?

AN: It was really amazing! When you travel – you see how different conditions are, you see different players, and you see where you stand. Such experiences matter. 

Q: There are a lot of tourneys coming in India over the next 2-3 months. Is that a huge booster coming from AITA?

AN: It’s great to have that many tournaments in India. It makes it easier for us to travel and play. It’s easiest on our pockets. There is an ITF W40 tournament coming here for the first time – that’s a concept for everybody so I am looking forward to it. 

Q: Can you talk about the support from your family?

AN: My family has a huge part in my success so far. My mother travels with me everywhere. I’ve already spoken about my coaches. Recently, I’ve started CrossFit with coach Manoj Kumbhar – I do fitness with him. He used to play tennis so he is knowledgeable about the sport. It’s been amazing working with him. 

Q: Are there any aspects of your game that you are focusing on for the season ahead?

AN: I think I have all the strokes but I need to perfect them. I definitely need to work on my movement. A little bit on fitness as well. So yes, I’m working hard towards all that (smiles).

Rapid Fire

Favourite City?Mumbai
Favourite Surface?Hard courts
Favourite Cheat Meal?Honestly anything I get on cheat days! I am a big foodie.
Favourite Grand Slam?Australian Open
Favourite movie?Dangal (2016)
Tennis idols?Rafa Nadal, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams
Favourite non-tennis personalities?Virat Kohli
When was the last time you were star-struck meeting someone?Sania Mirza and Leander Paes
Who is the GOAT?Rafa Nadal

This interview was conducted in person on Thursday, 10 November 2022. Fellow ITD Core Member Vishnu Reddy contributed to this interview. 

Follow ITD on Instagram here and help us promote Indian tennis. 

Abhijeet Dangat is a lawyer and writer who loves playing, watching and discussing tennis. He has lived in India, France and the United Kingdom and has travelled across the world, many times witnessing sports history being made.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.