Enduring a stagnation on the professional circuit, India’s top woman singles player Ankita Raina says she can certainly break into the top-100 barrier but for that to happen she needs a travelling coach and physio.
She has remained in same rankings bracket in the last two years but the 24-year-old Ankita contends that she maybe ranked 259 in singles but there is not much difference between players below 300 and 200.
In 2017, ending runner-up at the USD 60,000 ITF event in Luan was her best performance. En route the final, she beat world number 139 Fangzhou Liu in the quarterfinals but lost the title-clash to world number 124 and top seed Lin Zhu.
Since then Ankita had a few semifinal finishes at similar events on the ITF circuit and also competed in USD 125K and 100k WTA events.
“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.
Asked to elaborate, Ankita said there is marked difference in fitness level of players in the top 300, so usually long matches are played.
“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.
“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.
Recently when the Sports Ministry announced the 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 I could 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).
“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 some if not great difference to results.
Her coach Bendre also feels that her ward definitely has in her to challenge the top-100 player but tennis is a tournament-based game.
“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.”
Further Bendre said players get good physios at bigger tournaments but for smaller events like 25K ITF, having your 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.