Ankita Raina
Ankita Raina in action in Dubai at the Fed Cup Image Credit: Courtesy Mauricio Ramos

Dubai: Top-ranked Ankita Raina, one of India’s brightest women’s players since Sania Mirza, is upbeat about her future despite India starting out with a loss against top-ranked China on the opening day of the Asia/Oceania Group I Fed Cup by BNP Paribas at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Tuesday.

After Rutuja Bhosle had lost to Shuai Zhang 6-4, 6-2, it was Raina coming out all guns blazing against World No. 28 Qiang Wang with breaks in the fourth and sixth to take the opening set 6-1 in quick time. In the second, the 27-year-old Indian got an early break in the opening game to lead 1-0. Tied at 30-30 on serve, Raina suddenly moved to the corner of the court and vomitted, halting play temporarily.

She was broken a couple of times as her 28-year-old Chinese opponent – famous for her win against former world No.1 Serena Williams at the 2020 Australian Open - went on to take the set 6-2 to force the decider. Raina continued to struggle with her health as she threw up a second time, after which the doctor was called on-court to check out on the Indian’s pulse and heart rate.

The third set was close and could have gone India’s way, had Raina capitalized on the opportunities that came her way. Wang, who at one point was ranked as high as world No.12 (September 2019) after reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open, held her nerve and overcame the gutsy Indian 6-4 in the third set.

“For me, it is just about believing in myself. My coach has been telling me all along that I deserve to be in the top-100 and that’s where much of the belief comes from,” Raina told media.

“At the moment, I’ve got to just hang in there and keep going at the various aspects of my game. It’s just playing at this level and I am convinced that one fine day the breakthrough will come. Tonight, I had my chances against her [Wang], but I was unlucky,” she added.

Born in the Indian state of Gujarat in a Kashmiri Pandit family, Raina has always had Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as her heroes while admiring Serena Williams and Sania Mirza among the women. Now after making a comeback on the WTA, Raina has nothing but adulation for her idol Mirza.

“When she [Sania Mirza] made her comeback earlier this year, I told her what an inspiration she has been to me and my career as a person and as a tennis player. I just couldn’t hold it,” Raina confessed.

“It’s really motivating to see a woman fight her way back into shape after giving birth to a child. And then to prove everyone, she went and won her very first tournament in Australia. This has given me so much more confidence and inspiration at the same time,” she added.

Joining China in the winning bracket on the opening day were South Korea with a decisive 3-0 result against Uzbekistan, while bottom-ranked Indonesia sprung the biggest upset with a 2-1 win over Chinese Taipei in the other two matches.

The six nations will continue playing over the next four days with the top two finishers advancing to the play-offs to be held in April, while the fifth and sixth places will be relegated to Group II for 2021.