CHENNAI: “I have been thinking about it everyday. I have been telling myself: ‘You are going to play in a Grand Slam... your dream is going to come true’.”
It’s fair to say that Ankita Raina is in the first real purple patch of her career. And the prize at the end of a highly rewarding six months is a deserved one — a maiden appearance at the qualifying event of a Major. The 25-year-old, who was in danger of falling out of the top 300, won her first tour-level match last November at a 125K series event in Mumbai.
She hasn’t looked back since. The upswing in her rankings since then, she achieved a career best ranking of 187 (highest ranked Indian women’s singles player by a distance) on Monday, is proof of her run. What does she put this down to? “I have added solidity to my game apart from working on physical fitness,” she says. “I am also at that age where you mature a lot as a tennis player.” It’s not as if she was ignoring these aspects about her game earlier, but she has now developed a proper structure. ‘Protocol,’ is the word she uses to describe it. “I now have a fixed routine to follow, a protocol as to when I go to the gym, when I do stretching and so on. It’s become structured now.”
There is another aspect behind her improvement. Playing match after match, week after week. She has played 28 matches in 2018, 17 more than at this stage last year. “I have been doing a lot of travelling, playing lots of tournaments,” she explains. “So I have learnt to become patient. Because of all that match practice, my overall game has improved. I know when to go for my shots and am constantly getting good depth on my groundstrokes.”
Those kind of in-game changes have yielded significant off-court returns. For example, she was inducted into the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme in late April, just two months after Somdev Devvarman, national observer, had omitted her name. But AITA named her to the scheme which will give Raina, who is prioritising the Asian Games, funding to the tune of `50,000 per month. While there is lots of scope for improvement — the Gujarat- born girl has to move away from ITF and start testing herself in tour-level events — she is showing signs of development. The next chapter in her life — the clay of Roland Garros — will offer further clues as to whether she will continue her climb. firstname.lastname@example.org