THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:The year before he became Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was involved in a meeting with the BJP cadre in New Delhi. Ankita Raina, also from Ahmedabad, was slugging herself in a national tournament in the capital.
Her career was straddling a delicate phase. For all her accomplishments in the country, she was unable to fund her overseas trips. Another talented player’s career seemed a year away from flat-lining.
But as fate had it, Ankita had a surprise visitor at her hotel one evening. It was the then Gujarat CM Modi. “I had approached the Sports Authority of Gujarat director general Sandeep Pradhan for helping me out with overseas tours. He conveyed the message to Modi and he personally came and met me,” she narrated.
The petite youngster couldn’t forget that evening. “He (Modi) was very affectionate and warm and told me to pursue my ambitions. I told him about the expenses to be a top player. He assured there wouldn’t be any hassle in my pursuit of excellence. The next month I got a cheque for R5 lakh. Subsequently, I was inducted into the Shaktidoot Yojna and have been receiving `25 lakh a year,” she said.
This was a welcome relief for Ankita, whose parents had to bear a lot of expenses in meeting her training requirements. “They were very supportive, but had to borrow from friends and relatives and take loans from banks to meet my requirements. I was placing a huge burden on them,” she explained.
Overseas trips became more frequent. In the last one-and-a-half years, she has travelled to Belgium, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, China, France and Uzbekistan. Her ranking has also improved. From 300 at the start of 2014, it became 245 in the latest chart. To top it all, she is the top-seeded Indian woman in the world. “Once the financial aspect was solved, I could focus solely on the game. These exposure trips helped me improve a great deal,” she said.
She is on a mission to reciprocate the trust invested by the Prime Minister. “He might have seen some talent in me. So I have to repose his faith and win more tournaments and make him and the country proud,” she stated.
The 22-year-old’s first goal is to secure a place in the qualifying round of the French Open. “Having grown up idolising Rafael Nadal, playing at Roland Garros will be a dream come true. My aim is to break into the top 150, so that I can play in the WTA circuit.
“But my ultimate aim is to represent the country in the Olympics, hopefully in Rio.”
A player of her stature could have given the National Games a miss, as had a few top-notch athletes. “But I don’t want to miss an opportunity to represent my state. It’s where my journey began and it’s a special feeling whenever I play for Gujarat,” said Ankita, who trains in Pune with Hemant Bendre.