Ankita Raina is often the first person on the Deccan Gymkhana tennis courts every day. At 6.30 in the morning,while people take languid walks around the courts,Raina is busy stretching and shadow practicing her backhands and forehands. Since coming back from Japan,where she played in two ITF events,the Pune girl has been working on polishing her technique and adding more bite to her shots.
Raina has had a good year so far. In June,she won the doubles as well as the singles crown at an ITF event in Delhi. Before that,she won a couple of doubles titles in the capital in April and May. Playing in Delhi in April and May was really challenging. The heat was horrible and it was a task to even stand on court for more than half an hour, says Raina.
After her Delhi triumphs,Raina travelled to the UAE to play in another ITF event in Fujaira near Dubai. After battling the Delhi heat,Raina managed to adjust fairly quickly to the scorching desert conditions and progressed to the finals of the event. It was my first finals appearance in a tournament outside India but things didnt go my way in the final, she says. Raina then travelled to Japan but did not make much headway,losing in the qualifiers.
Speaking about her Japanese sojourn,Raina says,The Japanese circuit is a tough one to crack. Not a lot of Indian players manage to succeed in Japan. A lot of higher ranked players regularly turn up,and playing in the Psukuba and Noto events taught me a lot.
Raina managed to win her first qualifier in the Noto event and was up match-point in her second match. I was playing on an artificial grass surface and it was quite slippery. I had taken the first set and was on the verge of taking the second and the match. However,my Japanese opponent was an experienced player on the artificial surface and she used all her experience to deny me the match-point and then gradually just took the game away from me, she says. Raina has learnt her lessons and at present is working on improving her fitness and also developing a weapon,a shot that she can use at will to make a statement and capture crunch points. In Japan I played a couple of long matches and I understood that my fitness wasnt up to international standards. Keeping that in mind I have begun a more strenuous fitness regimen, she says. Raina has started spending three hours in the gym,keeping aside time for each muscle integral to her on-court performance. My coach has also increased my on-court fitness workload and has designed an endurance specific routine for me,including shuttle runs and circuit training,so that I perform to the best of my abilities even in long matches.
She also says that after her storming entry onto the senior tennis circuit her performances plateaued and she had to revisit her priorities in order to get back into the groove. I won the junior and the senior nationals in 2009. I was immediately drafted into the India team for the Federation Cup and I thought I was ready for the senior circuit. she says.
However,after her return from Malaysia with the Indian team,Rainas performances on the senior circuit started deteriorating. I wasnt winning matches. I was exiting tournaments in the first and the second round. It was a wake-up call for me to seriously analyse myself and my game. she says.
Raina consulted mental trainer Debashree Marathe and she says that was the best choice she made. Debashree was lucky for me. I started working with her in November last year and that really helped. We used to talk about my game. Talk about kicking on from strong positions and to not let the advantage slip. she says. Raina said that as her mental make-up started improving her on-court performances did the same. My confidence increased on the court. I started hitting shots that had an element of risk but I knew I could play them well. I just started backing myself. she says.
Raina has a packed schedule till the end of the year. At the end of this month she leaves to play two events in Karnataka then heads to Delhi,a happy hunting ground for her,and winds up the year by playing in an ITF event in Nigeria.