MUMBAI: By Thursday, Ankita Raina was the lone Indian woman standing at the L&T Mumbai Open. But barely. The 25-year-old had finished her first round match past 11:30 pm on Wednesday and had to return to the court less than 16 hours later.
Raina did put up a fight in the second set but went down 2-6, 5-7 to Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic in the second round.
“I did feel a little slow at the beginning,” said Raina.
“Maybe it was because I hadn’t recovered completely from the match last night. Usually, it’s not a problem for me to play back-to-back three-set matches. But this is my third tournament after the illness, so I am not back to full fitness.”
Raina was down with dengue in September, after returning from a successful Asian Games in Jakarta. The Indian returned with a bronze medal in the singles. After more than a month off the tour, she returned in October to play the Tianjin Open. “The doctors didn’t want me to start playing so soon,” said Raina.
“But I wanted to return and get back into the groove soon. In the first tournament back, I was breathing heavily since the endurance level wasn’t there. I am much better now.”
In Mumbai, she did fight back from a set down in the first round to beat Rutuja Bhosale 4-6, 6-2, 7-6. Raina settled for another attritional battle against Kovinic, a former top-50 player. She had lost the first set 2-6 and was down 1-4 in the second when Raina started taking bigger swings at the ball.
The Indian went on to win four straight games and even served for the set at 5-4. But her serve isn’t her biggest weapon, and Kovinic attacked it well to clinch the set. There were a total of 13 breaks of serve in the match, with Raina conceding eight.
Ranked 197, Raina is placed well to make the cut for the Australian Open qualifiers. She needs about 20 points to strengthen her case. The Indian made a breakthrough at the same event last year when she made the quarterfinals.
“Since then, I knew I can play at this level,” she said.
“I need to play better on the crucial points. In women’s tennis, you have to keep fighting because you will get chances.”
The confidence she gained from the event last year rubbed off on her this season when she not only made qualifications for the French Open and Wimbledon but also did well for India at Fed Cup and Asiad.
The mileage of a long season is telling on her, but the Raina has a few more matches to play and ranking points to gain before she calls it off.