Ankita Raina becomes the first female Olympian from Gujarat in India's 100+ years of Olympic history
The India No. 1 tennis player in women's singles and doubles, Gujarat's Ankita Raina is ready to debut as the state's first-ever female Olympian.
Creating quiet ripples both on the domestic and international front, Gujarat's Ankita Raina has gone ahead to achieve an exclusive feat. The current Indian No. 1 player in women's singles as well as doubles in tennis, the 28-year-old Raina has become the first female athlete from Gujarat to qualify for the Olympics.
Being chosen by 6-time Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza, a 3-time Olympian, to partner with her in the women's doubles at the Tokyo Olympics, Ankita Raina has already created history. India has been taking part in the prestigious Olympic Games for more than a century, beginning with the 1900 Paris Olympics. However, the state of Gujarat had always missed out on having female representation at the quadrennial Games which will be in its 29th edition at Tokyo.
Surprisingly, Gujarat, considered to be the cradle of cricket, has not produced too many Olympians either - only the wrestler Shankkarao Thorat and hockey player Govindrao Sawan have been to the Olympics previously from this State. Both Vadodara-born athletes, neither Thorat, who took part in the 1936 Berlin Olympics nor Shankarrao, who was present at the 1960 Rome Olympics got their due fame and have died, being forgotten by most for their contributions.
The 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist, Ankita Raina, by earning a ticket to the upcoming Games in Japan has become the first woman from the western state of Gujarat - a tennis player at that, to qualify for her maiden Olympic Games.
Ankita Raina's dream of playing at the Olympics is now a reality
Every athlete has one dream in common - to be able to play at the Olympics and make their nation proud. Similarly, Ankita Raina, some 5ft4" in stature also nurtured these big dreams soon after picking up the racquet at an early age of 5.
Belonging to a Kashimiri-Pandit family, Ankita Raina's interest in tennis grew after watching her brother, Ankur Raina play at a nearby club. The Ahmedabad girl, Ankita Raina's potential as a tennis player was soon discovered after she won the U-10 Future Talents tennis competition organised by the All India Tennis Association, at just 8 years of age.
Possessing sheer will and passion for the sport, Ankita Raina soon shifted to Pune to focus more on her tennis career. Coached by Hemant Bendre at the PYC Hindu Gymkhana in Pune, Raina has silently scaled heights in tennis. After Sania Mirza, Raina is definitely the next big star-in-the-making for Indian women's tennis.
Turning pro in 2009, Ankita Raina has several trophies to her credit, having collected at least 11 ITF titles, a WTA 250 title, another WTA 125k title as well. Currently ranked World No. 95 on the doubles list and World No. 181 on the singles roster, Ankita Raina's big moment of glory came at the 2018 Asian Games where she clinched the bronze medal. In earning that honour, Raina became only the second Indian tennis player to do so after former doubles World No. 1, Sania Mirza.
Moreover, the duo of Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina also boasts of having a 5-0 winning streak at the Fed Cup and led India to their maiden play-offs at the event. Mirza, who has an injury-protected ranking of World No. 9 and qualified for her fourth straight Olympics, had the liberty to choose any fellow Indian player within the top-300 to partner with her at Tokyo. Given Raina and Mirza's undefeated streak at the Fed Cup, it was only natural that Mirza would choose the Gujarat-born player.
Due to train together in the United Kingdom post the conclusion of Wimbledon, the Mirza-Raina duo might be the only pair to represent India in tennis at the Tokyo Olympics this year. With fogginess very much present regarding the chances of Rohan Bopanna-Divij Sharan qualifying, it seems like Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina will be championing the hopes of India as they vie for a second medal in tennis for the nation. India, till now, has only one medal in the sport which dates back to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bronze victory of 18-time Grand Slam champion Leander Paes.
Gujarat's tryst with sports
Gujarat has produced a lot of top-quality cricket players like the Pathan brothers - Irfan and Yusuf, Jasprit Bumrah, Axar Patel and Cheteshwar Pujara. Notably, 2018 Commonwealth Games men's team gold medallist paddler Harmeet Desai also hails from Surat and was looking to make the cut for Tokyo. However, with only two slots available for every nation in the table tennis men's singles category, Desai lost out to fellow higher-ranked Indian players, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran. The Pune-based Ankita Raina will therefore now be the hope of Gujarat as well as the country as she makes her debut at the Tokyo Games and becomes the state's first female Olympian.