As victories go, Ankita Raina would count her win over former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki at the Surbiton Trophy on Monday evening amongst the highlights of her career. It's the latest of her big wins in recent times, following just about a month after the 26-year-old Indian's win over former US Open champion Samantha Stosur.
Of course, it might be argued that the mercurial 28-year-old Lisicki is woefully out of form and currently ranked 297th in the world -- as would be suggested by the fact that she was playing the 170th ranked Indian in the qualifying round of the $100,000 ITF women's tour event. It's also a fact that Raina would rather have been playing in the clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris -- where the eyes of the tennis world are fixed at the moment -- rather than on grass in a club in one of the suburbs of London.
Raina was indeed in France playing in the qualifiers of the French Open where she had lost to the upcoming player Cori Guff. Raina is honest about the fact that she would rather have been playing there. "Grand slams are the tournaments I am dreaming of. Until last year, I was working hard for the chance to play qualifiers. Any player would be disappointed on losing there," she says.
But while Raina might wish she got the chance to take back more memories from the French capital rather than just a few of the balls with "Roland Garros 2019" printed on them, she has learned to take the loss in her stride and move on. At the start of the year too she had lost in the second round of the Australian Open qualifiers, but had shrugged off the loss and headed to Singapore, where she won her first title of 2019.
Raina is taking the same mindset forward. "In terms of the vibe of the tournament and the hype around it, it's very different but that is what tennis is about. Every week you go to a new tournament and a fresh set of matches. It's like a circle and it keeps going on and on. Is it a grind? Yes. And is there an end? No. But you learn to enjoy it. You get the chance to wake up in the morning and step on a court. And what matters is how well you can adjust to your new situation," she says.
She has adjusted well from slow clay to the fast and uneven bounce of grass. "There are moments where I'm not sure of the bounce right until the moment the racket gets to the ball but I was able to deal with it much better than my opponent. That gives me a lot of confidence," she says.
Indeed, Raina is content to count her blessings for the moment. One of which is the fact that she could work with her coach Hemant Bendrey over the course of her week in Paris. "Although I am sponsored by the government of Gujarat, it becomes too expensive to keep a coach or trainer with me throughout the season since I am travelling so much. I was only able to work with a coach a few times a year and I was able to do that at the French Open," she says.
One aspect where that has certainly helped was in her second serve. "She usually hits a slow second serve because she's looking to place the ball. But this time, she's more willing to hit it harder and go for more angles," says Bendrey.
Raina counts another advantage from her early loss in Paris. "It was disappointing to lose but at least that gave me a few extra days to rest and recover," she says. That helped her out at Surbiton where the tournament's schedule was such that Raina had to play both her qualifying matches on Monday.
Raina has a day's rest before she plays her first round match against local wildcard and world no. 262 Katy Dunne. The Indian should hope to get past that hurdle as she bids to travel deep into the tournament.
Regardless of the outcome of the rest of the week though, Raina will undoubtedly be back for more. The grass court tournament in Surbiton is part of her build-up for Wimbledon. She had reached the second round of qualifiers there last year and is hopeful of going all the way to the main draw this year. "That's the ultimate goal for me," she says.