Ankita Raina had just clobbered a forehand cross-court shot into the edge of Amandine Hesse’s side of the court. The French player had the legs to get her to the shot, but her lobbed return did not have enough juice to go deep. It sat up well for Raina, who had the entire court at her mercy. Inexplicably, she tried a drop shot.
She stood stone-faced even before the ball struck the net. Raina had just conceded a mini-break in the second set tiebreaker of her quarterfinal at the Mumbai Open WTA 125K Series at the CCI Courts. And she would not be able to recover to save the match, as Hesse would go on to win 6-3, 7-6 (4).
It brought an end to an impressive run the Indian had put up over the last two days. After all, she had never managed to win a main draw match at a WTA event before.
In Mumbai though, the 24-year-old had gotten past two players ranked higher than her world ranking of 293, before falling to the current Hesse – ranked 265. Hesse, in her own right, was once ranked 154, and the difference in class was evident. Right from the outset, Hesse could match Raina’s ability to run and pick up balls. The difference however, was a stronger serve and even more powerful ground strokes that had the Indian struggle. At match point, Hesse drove back a forehand that Raina could not control, and hit long to drop the tiebreaker 7-4.
Still there was a positive display from the Ahmedabad-girl, as she stood up to the challenge and often put her opponent in uncomfortable situations. She started the match on the front-foot, breaking Hesse’s serve immediately.
At 0-30 up in third game of the first set, Raina countered Hesse’s shot with a strong forehand winner down the line, and forced an error on the next point to get the early break. In all, Raina would break her opponent four times in the match, but would crucially fail to hold her own serve six times.
Raina’s camp, however, is confident the youngster will be able to bounce back – much better than she has done in the past.
“Ankita has always been a good player. She travels alone for tournaments, so there is nobody to help her mentally recover if she looses a match, and that affects her play,” says Hemant Bendrey.
Getting her first two wins at a WTA event may just change the thinking process. “She will be much more confident now. She’s prepared well for her matches and has executed well to get those wins,” Bendrey adds.
The quarterfinal finish – that too in a tournament where Raina was the only Indian to get as far – has done well for her morale. And there is a hope that she can use the achievement as a springboard to climb further.