Ankita Raina outlines handicap of limited support staff

Gaining the services of travelling coach and physio is must for players to “graduate to the next level,” says the top singles player in India among women.

Ankita Raina believes there isn’t much difference in the levels of players in the 100-300 rankings bracket.   -  Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Ankita Raina, India’s top singles player among women, believes she can break into the top 100 in the world rankings if she is supported as a professional by a travelling coach and a physio.

The 24-year-old is ranked 259 in singles but she doesn’t perceive much difference between players in the 200-300 bracket.

In 2017, she finished runner-up at the USD 60,000 ITF event in Luan, her best performance. En route to the final, she beat World No. 139 Fangzhou Liu in the quarterfinals but lost the title-clash to World No. 124 and top seed Lin Zhu. Since then, Ankita has had a few semifinal finishes at similar events on the ITF circuit; she has also competed in USD 125K and 100K WTA events.

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“The level has really gone up. Players inside 300s are as good as inside 150. There is not much difference. The margin of defeat and win is very thin now. It’s one or two points that makes a huge difference in the final outcome. There are small things that need to be taken into consideration to graduate to the next level,” Ankita told PTI on the sidelines of the Tata Open Maharashtra.

Ankita said there is marked difference in fitness level of players in the top 300, so the matches are usually long.

Difference in recovery period

“After playing a long match, your body needs to recover fast to get ready for the next battle. Players who have good support in terms of coaches and physios, recover fast. Players like me who are alone, take more time to recover and hence struggle to be match ready after a gruelling contest,” she explained.

Ankita emphasised on the need to have a support system to be successful on the professional circuit. “You have to manage everything on your own. The food, the stay, booking of practice courts, flights, visa and what not. If you have even one person with you, he or she can take care of at least arranging food and things like court bookings. It gives you that extra cushion. The burden is less. I am not complaining but you will find that players who are doing well are those who have either a physio or a coach travelling with them,” she said.

‘Luxury’

“As of now having a travelling coach is luxury for me. There are not enough funds. Whatever I am managing is thanks to support I get from Sports Authority of Gujarat but if I have to move to the next level, I need to have a physio or my coach Hemant Bendre travelling with me,” she added.

When the Sports Ministry had announced the list of players selected for financial support under TOPS, Ankita’s name was missing. “I am surprised why my name is not there. I am India’s top-ranked player. What else could I do to be included in the list? I am not a 30-year-old who has no future ahead. I have firm belief that I am a top-100 player,” said Ankita, who recently completed her graduation degree from BMCC college (Pune University).

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“I have travelled alone since I was 16. I have come a long way. But I need help now in terms of support staff since that’s the need of the hour. Players who are progressing fast are those who have help during the tournaments.”

Ankita contended that a coach can observe things from a different perspective from outside and since WTA allows coaching during matches, it can make a difference to the results.

No variety

Her coach Bendre also believed Ankita possesses the calibre to challenge players from the top 100 in the rankings. He said, “It’s not like athletics that you train for few months and then compete at 3-4 events. We have to play tournaments throughout the year, so where is the time to add variety in the game? To do this, I have to travel with her,” he said.

Explaining further, Bendre said, “She competes in almost 28 tournaments in a year. Where is the time to work on game. She can hit as hard as top-100 and can also handle speed of a top-100 player but needs variety. Training has to be included during tournament. If she misses on training, how can she move forward? She gets to train with me only one week at a time but how will I observe if she has applied those things in matches?”

Bendre observed players get the help of good physios in bigger tournaments but not in the smaller ones like the 25K ITF; in these lower-tier tournament, possessing one’s own physio is a must.

If Ankita gets support through TOPS, Bendre can travel with her for at least six tournaments. “I am willing to spend from my own pocket to add four more weeks. That way I can help her 10 tournaments in a year,” he said.