Indian tennis needs more ITF events: Ankita Raina
Ankita Raina is happy events like the WTA 250 Chennai Open are now being hosted in India, but says that there are too few higher-level ITF events here.
Ankita Raina, India's most frequent number one women's singles tennis player over the last decade, said it was an inspirational moment to play her first WTA 250 event in her home country at the Chennai Open.
But she would like more tournaments of levels ITF 25 and above to be held here so that Indian players can build up on their rankings without the hassle of travelling abroad and become more competitive at WTA 250 levels.
"Playing a WTA 250 tournament at home inspires players to play at the highest level. Any big sports event in India has that impact," she told The Bridge.
The WTA 250 Chennai Open this year was the biggest women's tennis event to be hosted in India since the restructuring of WTA in 2009. The 2008 Bangalore Open had been the last big women's event here - which had been won by a 26-year-old Serena Williams, who defeated Patty Schnyder in the final.
This year, the two Indians at the Chennai Open - Ankita Raina and Karman Thandi - were knocked out in the first and second rounds respectively. Raina was unlucky to have been pitted against Germany's Tatjana Maria, the 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist, in the first round itself.
Raina, currently ranked 297 in the world, said India should focus on hosting more ITF events so that an Indian can be a future prospect of winning a title of such stature.
"But we need more ITF 25, ITF 60 level tournaments to be held here. There should be around 16 such events in the annual calendar. That will help our players to build up their rankings to get around the top 300, after which they can have a chance to play the WTAs. It will not only cut the cost of travelling for the players but travel fatigue, playing with home conditions makes a difference," she said.
There are five ITF events in India this year. Only one of them was of ITK 25 level or higher - in Navi Mumbai in January 2022. Last year, there were two ITF 25K events, both in Pune.
Raina said the difference in competition is not very different in the higher ITF levels than at the WTA 250 level. If Indians get regular exposure to the ITF tournaments, they can become a potent force in the higher level, she said.
"The level of competition is similar between WTA 250 and ITFs above 25. It's going to be helpful to have WTA events consistently but to be able to play those events we require the other ITF events regularly. That will give us the confidence required to perform at the WTA 250 level," she said.
(The author is a Sports Research Scholar (Ph.D.) at the University of Mysore)