Captain Ankita Bhambri Discusses Rise And Challenges Of Indian Women’s Tennis
- IWB Post
- August 8, 2018
The year 2018 has been a comeback and bounceback year for Indian tennis team. In April, tennis player Ankita Raina breached the top-200 rankings in WTA (Women’s Tennis Rankings) singles chart and the sensation Karman Kaur Thandi joined her in the month of July, becoming only the sixth Indian to break into the WTA top-200.
This week’s rankings have broken almost a decade’s record as there are two Indians in the top 200. The rise, according to India’s Fed Cup captain Ankita Bhambri, has been a long time coming.
Bhambri is a former professional tennis player, whose highest career singles ranking is World No. 332, which she achieved in May 2006
The women’s team’s coach-cum-manager at the Asian Games, which are to be held in Jakarta and Palembang from 18th of August to 2nd of September, says the climb and progress of the Indian women tennis players are slow and steady.
“There has always been a huge gap as far as women’s tennis is concerned and there are not many opportunities. Plus it is always an unknown path for that single female coming from different cities. But now that Ankita and Karman are doing well, the other young bunch of players is moving up in the rankings. Slowly and steadily we will see them break into the top 200-150,” she told Scroll.in.
The example of the steady rise was seen at the Fed Cup. Player Raina came out impressive and was unbeaten, registering wins over top 100 players like Lin Zhu of China and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan to ensure India’s place in Asia/Oceania Group I whereas Thandi won her first singles title on ITF Pro circuit in Hong Kong, and more recently Rutuja Bhosale and Pranjala Yadlapalli won a $25K ITF doubles title.
Team India after winning Fed Cup 2018 tie against Chinese Taipei 2-0
This is a good sign heading into the Asian Games as well, where Ankita Raina, Karman Kaur Thandi, Rutuja Bhosale, Pranjala Yadlapalli, Riya Bhatia and doubles specialist Prarthna Thombare will hope to carry on India’s medal-winning track record. Thombare, who had won the women’s doubles bronze with Mirza in 2014, will be the most experienced member of the team, along with Raina, who had also represented India in Incheon four years back.
“We have a strong team, all the top women players are in the team and I am really hopeful of a medal,” Bhambri added. The coach validated her point as she gave an example of Indian male players who have only recently started getting some big wins on the ATP World Tour level. “The men have been playing for many years despite their wins or losses, but it is now that they are doing well. These results haven’t come overnight. It is a combined effort for a long time. Similarly, for women, they have just started to see the results. It takes time, one or two years later we will probably see these girls also up there,” she said.
Ankita also discussed the factors that are still hindering Indian players from achieving their best. While there is a combination of factors that have had an impact on Indian tennis, financial resources and injury management are two of the biggest areas that need to be worked on, she said.
“It is a Catch-22 situation. Just when you start playing at the level and get those opportunities, your physical fitness is stretched. To be able to reach and play those tournaments against better opponents and improve your game, you have to be able to match them. But whether it is in terms of your physical ability on the court or mental strength or groundstrokes, it takes time for you to get there,” said Bhambri.
She added, “Injuries and layoffs are a part of the sport. One can’t prevent it. You keep trying to work hard on your physical fitness to be able to maintain the high level of tennis when you are going for tournaments. Since we Indians don’t have the luxury of travelling with coaches and physios, one has to manage them best by yourself. One has to learn to bounce back from an injury at a very early age to do well on tennis.”
As a player, coach, and manager working closely with India’s top players, Bhambri has observed the sport closely. Her brother Yuki is India’s top-ranked singles player and sister Sanaa has played on the tour as well. And having seen all that, she believes that Indian tennis is moving in the right direction.
“Tennis in general needs a lot more support, and if financial pressure is taken away from the player, they might be able to get better results and perform in bigger tournament,” she explained.
This can prove to be even more beneficial for women as WTA allows on-court coaching on tour. “Having a coach watch your game and guide you on the things to be done right after the match is a necessary part of one’s career. You need to have a coach watching because in tennis there is no off season per say, most of the time is spent on tour. You may end up losing in the first round but the next five days are crucial to work on aspects that need more attention, so with a travelling coach it becomes easier,” she stated.
The progress that has come along the way with time is something that cannot be ignored, she feels. “At my time I couldn’t see players playing the circuit so much. I remember playing 20 tournaments was a struggle, and there were no Google maps. Today travel has become more accessible and Indians are playing in every part of the world, so there are a lot more opportunities,” she said.
And, adding to her happiness, hope, and satisfaction is the increase in number of female players. “I have seen a lot more women in India take up the sport seriously and professionally. They are more dedicated and investing a lot more time and trying to make a career. There is a lot more awareness from parents and coaches as well, so it will be a better scenario for women in few years,” she informed.