It took Indian women’s tennis 30 years to make the breakthrough and play the World Group play-off. It has taken only eight years for Ankita Raina.
"This should boost Indian women’s tennis. It is a big inspiration for everyone and should give the girls belief," Ankita said, quite delighted to be part of the historic achievement.
The 27-year-old Ankita has been playing well on the circuit, won the Asian Games bronze medal in 2018, and has had impressive wins in FedCup in the past, like beating Nao Hibino of Japan in 2016 and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in 2018.
Sania, Ankita shine as India makes World Group play-offs
She played eight matches in five days, won two singles and three decisive doubles with Sania Mirza. "Winning Fed Cup is a completely different feeling than the pro tour, because no matter how good you are, you cannot win if you are not good as a team and don’t come together as a team! You can be top 50, but if you don’t have two or three more good players from your country, it is tough,’’ said World No. 163 Ankita, back home after the unforgettable week in Dubai.
Originally, the tournament was scheduled to be played in China, and was postponed and shifted to Dubai following the outbreak of coronavirus.
‘’We didn’t realise how situations and circumstances changed. It moved to Dubai. All that happened for good’’, she observed.
"The emotions I have felt this time is new for me. It has given me so much more confidence and strengthened my self belief. Every time I went for Fed Cup, I was eagerly waiting for that day when we would qualify for World Group stage. It has taken a lot of time, waiting and patience," said Ankita.
She made her Fed Cup debut in 2013, competing in the doubles rubbers with Rutuja Bhosale and Rishika Sunkara in Group-2. She has an overall win-loss record of 23-17 in Fed Cup and a 15-11 record in singles.
"For me personally, it was a great example of pushing my limits much more than ever before, as I was playing two matches within half an hour. So playing a singles three-setter and then playing a doubles three-setter definitely showed how much you can challenge yourself physically," she remarked.
She was surprised by her own reserves of energy and more importantly the ability to recover the following day for more matches.
Ankita played the most crucial singles rubber against Aldila Sutjiadi of Indonesia on the last day, when she had to rescue the team from being down 0-1, "play under pressure and make sure the tie goes into decider doubles".
Buoyed India ready to explore new territory
"I wondered, how could I do it. For this, I really want to give credit to my trainer, physios and coach, who have been helping me to get this strong. Also, the recovery routine I did worked well for me. I was very surprised because finishing at 12.30 at night, dinner and going through recovery routine, it was like 3 a.m. when you hit the bed. I hardly slept for five hours, because I have a habit of waking up early. So, I thought that there would be soreness or heaviness, or just general feeling of being tired. But, no. I came out and played the most crucial matches and we won. What I have learnt from this one week, it is really amazing," said Ankita.
The best ranked Indian woman in both singles and doubles at the moment, Ankita was graceful in sharing the credit.
"Our captain Vishaal Uppal did a phenomenal job of getting the team together and making sure we were there supporting each other. Coach Ankita Bhambri madam and physio Anand Dubey sir were helpful and also led our cheering squad. Riya Bhatia and Sowjanya Bavisetti kept the atmosphere positive throughout and were always ready to help in practice," said Ankita.
While she was thankful for trainer Rutuja Patange being with her, Ankita was thrilled to accomplish the task with her fellow pro Rutuja Bhosale, as both train under coach Hemant Bendrey in Pune.
"It was great that Rutuja and me were part of this historic moment. We both have played Fed Cup earlier, together and at different times. It was such a special moment that India qualified this time, when we both were together. Both of us train with Hemant Bendrey sir . Hats off to his dedication, sacrifice and perseverance for so many years. I hope it sends out a message that it is not always about having a foreign coach or trainer. We need to have faith in our Indian coaching system," stressed Ankita.
Indian women’s tennis has started finding performers who inspire confidence of a bright tomorrow.