Ankita Raina relishing journey Down Under with maiden Slam appearance, WTA Tour win


Ankita Raina has had quite a couple of weeks to start the new year. COVID-19 restrictions forced the Australian Open authorities to move the qualifying event to the Middle East. The women’s matches, played in Dubai, saw the Indian notch couple of wins but falter in the final round. It, however, proved enough to get her a lucky loser spot and a seat on one of the specially-arranged private planes to Melbourne.

Upon arrival in Australia, she’s had to hit against the wall of her room, against windows, doors, or just about anything to stay occupied during the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Luckily, she wasn’t among the 72 players who remained in strict quarantine. Raina could go out — albeit only for the maximum five hours — and practice.

When tennis did resume, she lost to Aliona Bolsova at the Yarra Valley Classic and didn’t get one of the five lucky loser spots for the Australian Open. She did enter the main draw of the doubles event alongside Mihaela Buzarnescu. In so doing, Raina became the fifth Indian woman to feature in the main draw of a Grand Slam and first since Sania Mirza.

On Court 12, Raina got the start she would have wished for. She began with a backhand winner at the net, exclaimed ‘C’mon’ and the journey was underway. The end, however, was not rosy. In what turned out to be the final game, Raina hit a short high bouncing ball into the net while going for a cross court. The Indo-Romanian pairing lost 3-6, 0-6 to Belinda Woolcock and Olivia Gadecki.

“Perseverance,” said Raina when asked what is her takeaway from her maiden Grand Slam appearance. “It’s been a long journey. It’s a process, results don’t come overnight but you have to do the same thing over and over again regardless of failures or losses. Need to have that strength to get up after a tough phase or losing matches. Just go for the same routine and go for practice even on days you feel low.”

India’s top-ranked woman feels coming this close to a singles main draw and making it in the doubles has affirmed her belief that she can play at the top level.

“For quite some time, my coach has been telling me that you have the potential and game to beat the top-100. But it’s a process, we’re working on things. Now I feel and see it too. Realising that potential has helped. I am ready and I can take this physically.”

At the Phillip Island Trophy, a tournament running parallel to the Slam, Raina recorded her first victory in a WTA Tour event having come through qualifying. She beat Italy’s 126th ranked Elisabetta Cocciaretto 5-7, 6-1, 6-2. The 28-year-old had played just two WTA tournaments coming into it: the warm-up for Australian Open and Thailand Open in February last year.

“It was very, very windy today. I began well, but she (Elisabetta) got more consistent. But in the second and third set I played solid,” she told PTI.

In the Round of 32, Raina fell to Australia’s Kimberly Birrell 3-6, 6-3, 4-6.

Her run in the singles has ended but doubles continues. Partnering Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia, they’re through to the quarter-finals and face two regulars on the singles court in Belarussian pairing Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Vera Lapko.

“I feel quite confident lately. The year (2020) ended on a good note. I did well in doubles and started the year in Dubai with qualifying for the Australian Open. I played some very good matches. Final round was also very close, my opponent (Olga Danilovic) played really well. Regardless of that you have the belief, sometimes you come close but it’s a bad day then you just move ahead,” said Raina who is looking at the bright side of things. She has every reason to.

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