Ankita Raina on Sunday became only the Fifth Indian woman tennis player to secure a place in the main draw of a Grand Slam as she made the cut for the women’s doubles event of the Australian Open.
The Australian Open starts in Melbourne on Monday.
After missing out on the women’s singles main draw, she still had a chance to qualify as a ‘lucky loser’ till the completion of the first round, but the 28-year-old realized a long-time dream when she signed up with Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnecu and earned a direct entry.
Only Sania Mirza and Nirupama Vaidyanathan have competed in the Grand Slam main draws for India before.
Raina is only the second Indian after Sania Mirza, a six-time Grand Slam champion, to compete in the women’s doubles of a tennis major. Nirupama was the first to crack a Grand Slam main draw, back in 1998 at Australian Open.
Raina, who played a key role in Indian Fed Cup team’s tremendous progress, said that although singles hold a different significance, making the doubles draw too is special. “Regardless of the fact that it is doubles, I will take it. I kept at it. I stayed in the process. Maybe next time, I will play singles too. After years of hard work, it is starting with doubles, but singles will happen [too]. It’s a first, so it’s special,” Ankita told PTI.
“People start believing. We touch many small milestones but this one is at a pinnacle. Anyone who starts playing professional tennis, dreams of playing in a Grand Slam.”
Ankita said initially she did not find her name in the draw and was disappointed.
“I can’t believe it, I missed my name in the sheet. After practice I asked for the draw and frantically looked for my name. I did not find it. Then my coach called me to say I have made it,” she said.
Ankita had signed up with Romanian southpaw Mihaela, who was a top-50 singles player before injury pegged her back, on Friday.
They will open their campaign against Australian wild card pair of Olivia Gadecki and Belinda Woolcock.
“A friend told me that Mihaela is looking for a partner. I spoke to her and she agreed. I have not played with her before but I have played with a lefty on the tour. It make a good combination. I am looking forward to it.”
With Raina’s entry, a total of four Indians will now be competing in the season’s first Grand Slam. Sumit Nagal will compete in the men’s singles, while Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan will present their challenge in the men’s doubles with their respective partners.
Nagal has drawn Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis as his first-round opponent. Bopanna and his Japanese partner Ben McLachlan will take on Korean wild card entrants Ji Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song. Sharan and his Slovakian partner Igor Zelenay will take on German combo of Yannick Hanfmann and Kevin Krawietz.