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Ankita Raina : Meet the new poster-girl of Indian tennis

Ankita Raina : Meet the new poster-girl of Indian tennis

Anjali Banerjee

Published: 10 Feb 2018 7:02 AM GMT
"Work hard in silence and let success do the talking." The adage finds meaning when one looks at her. Currently perched on World no 253 in the WTA rankings, her perseverance and guts could put even the top 100 players to shame. Meet India's No. 1-ranked single's tennis player Ankita Raina. The indomitable Ahmedabad-based, Kashmiri girl's heroics at the R.K. Khanna stadium in New Delhi past few days have been picture perfect. Spearheading the Indian team in the Federation Cup Asia/Oceania Group I matches in the capital, the 25-year-old has proved her mettle in the most supreme ways ever. Trouncing two higher ranked players and registering consecutive wins, Ankita has silenced detractors by grabbing headlines. Beating the World no. 120 Lin Zhu from China and then the World no 81, Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, Raina has won the hearts of tennis fans. Putintseva's resume holds a third round singles appearance at the French Open 2017 and making it to the second round at the Australian Open both in 2017 and 2018 this year. This was a huge win for Raina who has been steadily working her way on the ITF circuit.
Image: Deccan Chronicle With this giant-killer instinct, Ankita has been a poster-girl of tennis this week. Pleased having her mother cheering for her in Delhi, it was more of an inspiration which fuelled the India No 1 to showcase some gut-wrenching performance at the Fed Cup. The celebrations and tears of joy after those crucial wins were worth all the struggles that had got her to this juncture where the entire nation was cheering for the tennis star.

Where did it all begin

Ankita started playing at the tender age of four. Her brother, Ankur would play the sport and Ankita would accompany her mother who took them to a nearby tennis court. Lalita, Raina's mother is herself a sports enthusiast. A college level athlete, she was keen on letting her children pursue sports. Hailing from a middle-class family, they moved from Ahmedabad to Pune in 2007 as the need of a proper training regime was the need of an hour for the young athlete. After initially being coached by V.K. Rawat, Ankita began training at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana sports facility in Pune, where she began working under the watchful eyes of Hemant Bendrey and Ketan Dhumal. In the same year of 2007, Ankita participated in the Under-14 Asian Tennis series and made it to the top eight. This gave her a chance to play in Australia at Melbourne park where she made the finals eventually losing but finishing as Asia's No 2. During this tournament, Ankita learnt to travel all by herself. With the family not having enough resources to make it with her, Raina endured the setbacks that came with travelling alone and it, in turn, helped her grow both mentally and physically. The determination of this thirteen-year-old girl then was a beacon of light that paved her way on this monumental journey of tennis. Her mother travelled with her few times while she played the age group events but soon Ankita started tending for herself with not much choice at her disposal. Also read:
Ankita Raina labours on the need for good support staff for success
Carrying the heavy kit and also undergoing immigration and other routines all by herself without any help or a travelling coach, the young Ankita has borne it all and with finesse. Making her first professional appearance in 2009, Ankita has been like the rock in the ocean by not letting the waves of adversity wear her down since then. An individual sport like Tennis is often a lonely, treacherous road where the athlete endures gruelling circumstances to wade ahead. For Ankita, fighting those obstacles has been a way of life. Having forced to leave school since the management did not approve of her staying away for tournaments, she gave her boards in private without letting that setback mar her spirits.

The Challenging journey

The Sports Authority of Gujarat has lent all the support that has helped her to compete in 25-30 events every year. However, it was a rude shock when her name was omitted from the TOPS funding list of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. 'That came as a surprise. When it happened, I was the top-ranked women's singles player in the country but was left out of it for some reason,' she said. TOPS has granted funding to next best singles player Karman Kaur Thandi, doubles player Prarthana Thombare along with Sania Mirza. Former Davis Cup player Somdev Dev Burman had made the recommendations, and AITA had indicated that he felt she had not shown enough progress.
Image: Amanpreet Singh/Twitter AITA felt that Ankita has never won a National title and medals for the country. Winning the National grass court championship in 2009 in Kolkata and last year too she won a silver in doubles with Thombare at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan but it still was not enough to prove her worth. Help for Ankita has come from few other sources in Ahmedabad too. The ONGC also gave her a job in 2013 when she played a tournament sponsored by them. As of now, her family is making sure that their girl attracts as much help as can be. Also read:
India is all set to begin her Fed Cup Campaign
Ending the last year of 2017 with a quarter-final finish at the $125,000 L&T Mumbai Open, Ankita has made it into the new season with a commanding performance at the Federation Cup. Winning all her Singles matches in the Asia/Oceania Group I ties against China, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and also helping India retain itself in the Group I by winning the relegation playoff against Chinese Taipei, Ankita has carved a niche for herself. 'Fed Cup is very important for me because it's the only event where you come together and play for India. I feel very motivated with India written on my back,' said the 25-year-old. 'I have been working very hard for the past many years for these results. I am very happy that I am able to play like I did, hopefully, I will continue to do better and better and get into the Grand Slam circuit and Olympic teams
.' Ankita was quoted saying in an interview. Tennis Greats Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Sania Mirza are the idols whom Ankita looks up to. She believes that sport has matured and she still has numerous years on hand to make the most of the time in her career.

The Accolades to her name

On 20 April 2015, Ankita reached her best singles ranking of world number 222. In January 2015, touched the world number 260 in the doubles rankings. Raina has also won Gold medals in the women's singles and mixed doubles events at the 2016 South Asian games. Having won Five singles and seven doubles ITF titles in her career, Ankita yet has to have a breakthrough when it comes to the WTA. But if she continues with this determination, there should not be a reason why the doughty Kashmiri girl cannot have it sooner. In a Nation where its more about the Doubles success stories, making a mark in the Singles has been the biggest challenge for the 25-year-old. For more than three years now, Raina has been the highest ranked tennis player in the country. She proved it well this time that she will make it large in the season ahead. While she needs tremendous support with the Asian games knocking on the door, it is upon us as a Nation to lend her all the resources that shall catapult her to the zenith.
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