- A five-year-old girl picks up a racquet that is almost equivalent to her own height. What started out as a hobby, turns into a passion, and eventually a dream! Ankita Raina
- The young girl from Ahmedabad moved to Pune to pursue this dream. She started training under Hemnat Bendre at the PYC Gymkhana in Pune.
- In 2013, she broke into the top 300 of the ITF rankings. She proved her mettle at numerous ITF tournaments. She has won over 20 medals at the professional circuit; seven out of those are in singles.
- Her ranking was stagnant for a couple of years. However, the last few months have been exciting for the youngster. In 2018, she reached her highest career ranking of 181 in singles. She missed out on her Grand Slam main draw but has more than 20 titles in the professional circuit.
- Now she is set to bring back the gold at the 2018 Asian Games. Here’s wishing her lot of success for the Asiads as well as all her future endeavors.
Champions are not just made of talent. They are made of persistence, grit, and determination as well. Our athletes have never failed to amaze us with their indomitable spirit. Every athlete story inspires us in a different way. We see them conquer their opponents and enjoy their moment in the spotlight, but what about the years of hard work and sweat? What about the numerous sacrifices? The real stories begin years before we even realize it.
Today, we explore the story of the current Indian number one in women’s singles tennis – Ankita Raina.
Tennis Star – Ankita Raina
Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Ankita Raina picked up tennis as a kid. Her excellence in the sport was prominent as she went on winning numerous tournaments even before she was a teenager. An extremely independent and determined girl, Ankita crossed one milestone after another to reach the career-high ranking of 181 on May 21, 2018.
- Date of Birth: 11 January 1993
- Place of Birth: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
- Parents: Ravinder Kishnen Raina and Lalita Raina
- Coach: Hemant Bendrey
- Highest Ranking (Singles): 181 (21 May 2018)
- Highest Ranking (Doubles): 159 (28 August 2017)
- Alma Mater: Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, Pune
Ankita Raina is blessed with a supportive family. She was born in Ahmedabad in a Kashmiri Pandit family. She started playing tennis at the tender age of five. Ankita’s mother, a table tennis and athletics player herself, used to take her elder son Ankur to play tennis. Ankita started accompanying them and picked up the sport herself. Not only did she start playing it, but also excelled in it.
She first displayed her immense talent when she was just eight. In the Future Kids competition, she beat a 14-year-old. Her family realized how special she is and encouraged her to pursue a career in tennis.
“When she was only 12, due to some problem, she had to carry her own kit through Pune after her training session. She was tired and had to travel in two buses with the heavy kit, but she did it. So we knew that if she has to do something, she is determined enough to do it alone,” her brother Ankur told Scroll.
Her family realized that Ankita could improve her game with proper training. Hence, Ankita moved to Pune in 2007. She started living with her mother’s side of the family. In Pune, he trained at the PYC Gymkhana under Hemnat Bendre.
“What was special about Ankita was that even as a young tee,n the motivation, and will to play was entirely hers. She didn’t, like most others of her age, have a pushy parent behind her. And that showed in her dedication. She was willing to train as long as you’d ask her to and work as hard as you’d wanted her to and often even more. It made it very easy for me to coach her. Her only wish was to play a Grand Slam someday. Every day she would tirelessly ask me when it would happen. Every year she would work towards just that one goal, of qualifying for a Grand Slam, and every year she would fall short. But she never gave up. I’m so happy that finally, she’s going to live her biggest dream,” her coach told ESPN.
Her mother, who works for Life Insurance Corporation, tried to transfer to Pune but got Lonavala instead. However, for years she traveled daily to support her daughter.
India's no.1 Ankita Raina has made it to the #Wimbledon Qualifiers and 2nd Grand Slam in 2018 after #FrenchOpen . Congratulations and all the best ?? @ankita_champ Keep the flag flying high ??? #Tennis pic.twitter.com/kPydHkF1Tt
— Sports Sutra ?? (@SpoSutra) June 21, 2018
Ankita is slowly and steadily climbing the ITF circuit. The real journey began for her in Australia. The year was 2007 and she had participated in the Under-14 Asian Tennis series. After qualifying in the first round, she went to Australia. Though she was the runner-up in the finals, the competition gave her a lot of confidence.
In 2009, she won the National grass court championship organized in Kolkatta. She reached three ITF circuit finals in the year 2011 in the doubles event. She even won one with Aishwarya Agrawal. The year 2012 brought her, her first singles professional singles title.
In 2013, Ankita broke into the top 300 by reaching a career-high ranking of 291. She won gold medals in women’s singles and mixed doubles at the South Asian Games 2016. She beat Japan’s Risa Ozaki at the $25,000 ITF tournament at Thailand. At the $25,000 ITF tournament in Gwalior, she beat Amandine Hesse from France. A
Unfortunately, Ankita Raina lost to Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 7-6(2) in the first round and couldn’t qualify for the French Open. Even her Grand Slam hopes were smashed with a heartbreaking defeat to Russian world number one, Vitalio Diatchenko.
The year 2018 started on a good note for Ankita as she breached into the top-200 WTA singles ranking. She is only the 5th Indian woman to do so. She has seven titles in singles in the professional circuit and has finally found a much-needed breakthrough.
Interesting Facts about Ankita Raina
- Ankita is inspired by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Sania Mirza, and Serena Williams.
- Her favorite tennis surface is grass.
- Ankita is totally an outdoorsy person. She likes to go to movies or visit new places with her friends during her free time.
- She is well-versed in four languages – Hindi, English, Kashmiri, and Gujarati.
- At the age of 13, Ankita traveled alone all the way to Sri Lanka for a tournament. Due to financial constraints, her family couldn’t accompany her.
- Ankita has been balancing her studies and her thriving tennis career very well. She managed to secure 69% in her 12th standard boards, even though she played in a tournament between two papers!
- Currently, she is completing her graduation from Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce in Pune.
- Her favorite dish is the delicious Rogan Josh, cooked with lots of onions and tomatoes. Unfortunately, she cannot enjoy it often due to her strict diet.
- Cooked with lots of onions and tomatoes
- She loves traveling in trains.
Support and Challenges
Coming from a middle-class family, Ankita had to face a lot of financial constraints. It was not possible for her family members to accompany her to tournaments due to financial constraints. Since she was just 12- 13 years old, she traveled alone. Imagine a 13 year old carrying her heavy kit and going to unknown places alone. Plus, she hardly knew anyone there, so she never had anyone to share her wins or defeats.
The Government of Gujarat has sponsored some of her expenses. Through its Shaktidoot scheme, the government is assisting upcoming athletes.
Getting a step closer to my goal for Olympics, with the win in Thailand. Heartfelt gratitude to honourable PM Sir @narendramodi @Ra_THORe @sportsgujarat @IndiaSports for supporting athletes through schemes like Shaktidhoot and TOPS. #SportsRisingInIndia pic.twitter.com/46OibvPc3r
— Ankita Raina (@ankita_champ) July 16, 2018
However, Ankita was not included in the Sports Ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme initially. Her family had to work really hard to provide her with all the necessary resources. Businessman JR Vyas helped her in this period. She was also given a job by ONGC in 2013.
Finally, in 2018 the Sports Authority of India included her in the TOPS scheme. Her excellent form in the Fed Cup and the professional circuit propelled this decision.
And here is the 8th athlete who has been added to the TOPS pool.
Wishing you all the best for your future endeavours, Ankita!
Hope you continue making the nation proud.
Many congratulations @ankita_champ ! #TOPSAthlete #SAI pic.twitter.com/LGVxiLdiZA
— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) April 28, 2018
The Road Ahead
Being included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme has been a big boost for Ankita. It has helped her focus more on her game. In the last few years, she has understood her game a lot better. Currently, she is working on improving her serve accuracy.
“I think it is the fitness and the mental part. Both get complex as you go higher, and you have to go into tiny details. The stronger one can get physically and mentally, the easier it’ll be to pull out matches at the highest level. Because everyone out there is fighting, one just needs to hang in there longer. The sport is very much mind-oriented at the top level. I’ve been preparing for the Asian Games since last year, so that has been the goal ever since. Of course, the goal is also to play the rest of the Slams,” she told DNA.
It is very clear that Ankita is persistent. She found her dream and is giving her very best to fulfill it. From traveling alone as a little girl to fighting it out on the court as a young woman, it has been quite a journey. The Indian number one in tennis singles has shown a lot of patience when her rankings failed to budge. And when they did, she made the most of the opportunity.
We cannot wait to see her at the podium in the Asian Games. An Asiad gold medal will be the perfect addition to her stellar display!
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