CHENNAI: When Sania Mirza walked off the pristine Australian Open court after losing to Tsvetana Pironkova in 2012, nobody would have marked it as an important day in the calendar then. It’s been some nine years and that was the last time an Indian woman played in the singles event at a Major. Injuries meant Sania started focussing on her doubles game. A lack of depth meant there was nobody who could take up the singles mantle.
In recent years, however, Ankita Raina has shown that she is capable of ending that streak. In fact, during the Australian Open qualifiers held in Dubai, she was a set from qualifying to the main draw. Even if she lost to Olga Danilovic, she still made the trip to Melbourne as one among 12 eligible to fill lucky loser spots. Staying in one of the quarantine hotels designated for tennis players, she is living a highly regimented lifestyle. In an interview to this daily, she speaks about it and need to work on her serve among other things. Excerpts:
In Dubai, you got to the final qualifying round. What are the main areas you feel you have improved in?
Not much in terms of that particular match, I was proud of the efforts I put in that day regardless of how I was feeling physically. I was very confident of qualifying for the main draw but my opponent played very solid. It was a great match and being the final round, nobody would let it go easy. I just felt after a set all, she was even more aggressive than the first set. In general, I have been working on my serve and that’s something that doesn’t improve overnight. It is a process.
How’s the condition in Melbourne?
It’s been good. I’m in the quarantine where I get to go to the venue for 5 hours for practice and training so it feels like a usual day. We get tested every day, we get the report by evening. It’s both the nasal and saliva one. Glad everything’s fine and I’m getting to practice.
What are some of the restrictions like?
We get the quarantine set meal which is pretty good and healthy. Even at the courts after practice during nutrition hour, whatever we order is free of charge. Some players still do delivery owing to a bigger appetite but I sometimes do order delivery as I prefer Indian. The food gets delivered at the reception and the players' services drop it at our door. There are a lot of protocols to be followed here for the safety of the community here as they have zero cases. The protocols are in place for our safety as well. One of them is that we can’t open our doors apart from these four reasons a) emergency, b) knock on door, c) to drop laundry outside, d) to take our food from the door.
When will you know whether you have made the main draw?
The list can move until the draw is made so (till) the very last moment. The tournament starts February 8 so will have chance until the first match is played I guess.