“It took me almost six months to start feeling physically fit again after contracting covid last year” – Ankita Raina

India’s number one ranked women’s player Ankita Raina had quite a tumultuous year in 2022, where her ranking fell considerably owing to a bad bout of covid at the start of the year followed by a struggle to compete at the top level.

Ankita’s ranking saw a considerable drop between Jan 2022 to June 2022

But despite the slump in form last year, Ankita has picked up her game and has again started performing well consistently in the women’s circuit. We got in touch with her to know more about her recent struggles and her outlook toward the various upcoming tournaments for this year.

Congratulations for the win today against your friend Rituja. What are your thoughts about today’s game? How are you feeling? Please let us know.

Me and Rituja have played many times before, at least a couple, and you know, playing together as a team, also in the Billie Jean King cup. But I feel that every match, every day is a new one. You have to bring out the best no matter what. And even if sometimes you’re not physically at your best, you have to push through mentally. And I think I like the conditions here, and I was able to play the way I had planned and I wanted to and close the match like I wanted.

You had a difficult year last year. You mentioned a couple of times that COVID hit you hard and it was hard to get back to the tournaments after that.

Yeah, last year was tough. You know, it was a phase and I think a few things happened together at the same time. I got COVID twice, like you mentioned. I have said that before, once in Jan and then second time in May when I was actually out for tournaments. So probably for the first time I had to retire, which I never thought I would do. Even when I’ve not been physically 100%, I’ve still like finished matches and completed them because I believe that’s sportsmanship. But then the first time when I got it, I didn’t have any symptoms, but the second time was really bad. But I felt it just took away a lot of time and in tennis that costs you because there are tournaments going on every week and players are competing throughout the year. And at the same time, due to the COVID rankings and the changes which they had made, you know, all affected at the same time in terms of defending points and the drop of points. So definitely it was challenging. Firstly, it took almost, I think, six months to start feeling physically fit. I initially didn’t think that, you know, with COVID it would be that bad. But obviously when I had to go through it, I could see it. I had to get physically better, then in practice in terms of tennis and then at the match level because match fitness is completely different. And then finally around August, September, I started to feel myself on court in terms of competing and game wise.

In doubles, you’ve teamed up with Prarthana Thombare. The fans are very curious to know how did that come about?

Me and Prarthana have played before, you know, for the Indian team and we go way back. Like we also used to train together before. And before she moved to doubles as well, we used to, we have played and won a couple of tournaments. And then last year from Solapur, we were talking before, but then finally our schedules match from Solapur because we both were planning to play those mostly we used to play abroad and then the schedule used to be different as well. So we thought, why not let’s, you know, try again. And we did well in Solapur, Navi Mumbai and then Pune. So obviously knowing someone from a long time because she’s just a year younger to me. So, you know, we are the same age group and we’ve been playing together and seeing each other on tour for a long time. So I think that also helps.

Switching gears a bit, the Billie Jean King tournaments coming up, Sania is not there. Mr. Uppal is not there. What are your thoughts about the tournament?

Of course, we will miss Sania. I mean, there’s no question, you know, having her has always been a huge motivation and inspiration for not just the Indian team, but I think the whole of tennis fraternity. And I mean, there have been a few times earlier when we had to go without her, maybe due to injury or like also when she was pregnant. But then having her always, we had the advantage and edge in terms of other teams, knowing how strong we are. Last couple of years, we had Vishal sir as well in the Indian team. And I felt it was great in terms of the team bonding together and, you know, having the team spirit. We definitely are going to miss him this year, but obviously there have been a lot of learnings that we are going to take forward as a team and do more than our best.

Just talking about your future goals, you’ve mentioned a couple of times that on your bucket list is the Grand Slam singles main draw. Also Asian Games are coming up. So how is your outlook for this year? What is it that you have to do more in order to break into those Grand Slams?

I mean, I’ve been in the qualifying there and also I’ve played the main draw in doubles and mixed in 21. So I think I’ve got an idea and got the exposure of what’s the level I need to be. Definitely physical was one of the parts, you know, getting as fit as you can. I think it’s just about improving every single day, my new things, because at this level, everyone knows how to hit forehands and backhands. And then it’s the crucial moments, crucial points in the matches, you know, which you need to be aware of and then mentally pushing when you have those opportunities to close the match, especially when you are playing at the highest levels, for example, in the Grand Slams or at the WTA Tour to get the big wins to have that boost. So yeah, definitely playing the main draw of the slams. And like you mentioned, Asian Games is coming up. I’ve been fortunate that, you know, with all the support and hard work, I’ve won a bronze medal in 2018. So I want to change that colour into gold. So that’s the motivation. That’s the goal. But it’s about just daily, you know, hard work and being in the process.

And not many people may know, but you even played Badosa in 2019 in the Australian Open in the qualifiers. So you’ve been there with the top players. And I guess now it’s probably putting everything together and breaking that barrier and coming into the main draw.

Yeah, in tennis, it’s, you know, everything has to come together, you know, the game, the physical, the mental. There are so many aspects, you know, the conditions matter, how you are playing that day, how the opponent is feeling that day. So but the only thing that’s in your control is you keep at it and keep doing it.

You had attended Sania’s farewell recently. What was your experience being there?

It was great. It was amazing. I was privileged and honored, you know, to be part of that event and to have that chance. It was really amazing to see, you know, all the people that the room was full of love. And there have been, you know, times obviously when I’ve seen, read other interviews and seen pictures of her when she had just started winning and when she had started tennis. But that event was really special. And it really meant a lot, even though I had to obviously go fly down for a day, but it was definitely worth it. And there were a lot of learnings from there. And even like seeing what how much parents do for the children to get there. It was really amazing.

You have a final tomorrow against Brenda. She’s 15. She’s playing really well in this tournament. What how do you prepare yourself for that match?

Yeah, Brenda, I mean, I’ve seen her for the first time in this tournament and coming to the finals, you know, is a great thing. I’ve had good matches and I’m looking forward to it.

You can watch the full interview below:

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