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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Ankita Raina off the mark in the big league

The 28-year-old Raina claims the biggest doubles title of her career combining with Russian teen Kamilla Rakhimova for the WTA 250 Phillip Island Trophy.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: February 20, 2021 8:57:37 am
Ankita Raina, L&T Mumbai Open, Peangtarn Plipuech, WTA Series, sports news, tennis, Indian ExpressThe win will propel the 28-year-old Ankita Raina to the top-100 in the WTA rankings in doubles. (Express file photo by Kevin DSouza)

At the Phillip Island Trophy, a WTA 250 event tucked into a small corner of Melbourne Park – away from the glitz of the Australian Open – India’s Ankita Raina paired up with Russian teenager Kamilla Rakhimova to beat the Russian duo Anna Blinkova and Anastasia Potapova 2-6, 6-4, 10-7 for the biggest title win of her career.

One can imagine what goes through the mind after winning a tennis tour event. Happiness, excitement, a touch (or maybe more) of exhaustion. And there’s the time to celebrate. Revel in the experience of having accomplished a target, and perhaps put feet up to recover before you try to do it all over again. For Raina though, on Friday, there was not much time for her to spare after claiming the big title.

On court, she bent down after the last point, before going on to hug her partner. But that’s as much time she had to celebrate. She had another plane to catch, and a lot of packing to do.

“I have to pack so much stuff that’s been here for over a month,” she says, almost lamenting.

“This is how it is, the match is over, the tournament is over, and now you have to fly to a new place. You don’t have much time to celebrate. Maybe I can try to have a good dinner; I hope I can do that at least.”

Raina had travelled to Australia on January 16 as part of the large tennis contingent that descended upon Melbourne for the Australian Open. The trip was arduous – given that the players had to undergo 14-days of quarantine upon arrival. But the 28-year-old managed to earn a spot in the main draw of the doubles event, making her only the fourth Indian woman to compete in a Grand Slam.

A defeat in the first round however ensured that she would be able to compete at the Phillip Island Trophy. And she made the most of it.

“I’m very happy and excited,” she says.

“It’s been very motivating for me and it strengthens the belief. For me, the results, performances and ranking have always come first in doubles and then in singles. So I hope (an upswing) in singles will follow soon.”

Raina is currently the highest ranked Indian in both the singles (World No 181) and doubles (115). Over the years she’s won 11 ITF Futures events in singles, and 18 at the same level in Doubles. Before Friday however, her biggest career win was the 125K Series doubles event she won at Chinese Taipei partnering compatriot Karman Kaur Thandi in 2018. But that has now been eclipsed by this latest piece of silverware she can add to her collection.

“I feel elated now that I’ll have a trophy to take back with me when I go home,” she says. “It’s been a long trip and I’ve played a few tournaments, so it’s just nice to take something back with me.” She also collected a prize cheque of USD 4000.

The Australian sojourn isn’t quite over yet. After packing her bags, she has to catch an hour’s flight to Adelaide where she will compete in both the singles and doubles event at the Adelaide International.

It’s the second WTA 500 (just below the Grand Slam and WTA 1000 level) event she will compete in since the start of February. But there is a much bigger event she has on her radar for now: the Tokyo Olympics.

Frontrunner to partner Sania Mirza at Olympics

Former doubles World No 1 Sania Mirza, who returned to the tour last year after maternity leave has a protective ranking of 9, which will ensure her a spot in the women’s doubles draw at the Olympics, and the luxury of taking any compatriot along as her partner. Raina is the frontrunner to pair up with the six-time Grand Slam champion. After all, everything she has experienced in the last few years has been shaping up towards the marquee quadrennial event.

“I’ve been preparing for the Olympics for the past few years,” Raina says. “Playing at the Asian Games in 2018 was a part of the preparation, and I managed to win a bronze medal in singles there. And playing with Sania, who is a legend, that’s as much as one can ask for.”

Her international career had started back when she was a scared teenager trying to negotiate a train transit in Morocco. She’s come a long way since then, and she’s started to trust a process.

“There have been times when I badly wanted to get into a Slam, or win a singles or doubles WTA title. But what I’ve learnt is that you just have to keep working towards it. It’ll come when it has to,” she says.

She can tick one thing off the bucket list – she has that big WTA doubles title.

“It’s just come this year for me.”

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