'When you are playing team events in these Games, it's a completely different atmosphere.'
'There's pressure, there's excitement, it's a completely different vibe.'
India's No 1 women's tennis player Ankita Raina will lead the charge at the Asian Games, which begins in Hangzhou from Saturday, September 23, 2023.
The 30 year old has been in good form, ensuring India remain in the Asia/Oceania Group I in the Billie Jean Cup (earlier called the Fed Cup) 2023. With two wins in five ties, India finished fourth in Group I Pool A, avoiding a drop to Group II for next season.
While acknowledging that commendable effort, Ankita and her colleagues, in the absence of the seasoned Sania Mirza, will have added responsibility of bringing glory to India at the Asiad.
"I have always mentioned that playing for and representing the country is a completely different feeling and it's been a dream since I was a kid," Ankita tells Norma Astrid Godinho/Rediff.com.
"Growing up I always looked up to being in the team and now being in the team, being in that position is a great feeling," she adds.
"But, obviously, it comes with a lot of responsibility. I have been playing in the Fed Cup team for the last 10 years, so I can definitely say that I have the experience of handling the pressure moments. And like I said, it's always a special and a proud feeling to represent India every time for the Billie Jean King Cup."
At the 2018 Asian Games, India returned with one gold medal and two bronze medals in tennis. Ankita was one of the three medallists, winning bronze in the women's singles event. But Ankita is determined to go two better at Hangzhou.
"When you are playing team events in these Games, it's a completely different atmosphere. There's pressure, there's excitement, it's a completely different vibe. In 2018, I won the bronze in the singles event. The goal this year is to go higher and turn that bronze into gold and I'm preparing for that," Ankita says, purpose in her voice.
While Ankita posted some enviable performances on court this year, she failed to make the cut for Wimbledon this year.
'Grass is always greener on the other side. A tough outing at the most prestigious tournament but always special to play here #Wimbledon,' she tweeted after her 6-3, 6-7 (5), 1-6 to Spain's Jessica Bouzas Maneiro on June 27.
"I was disappointed because grass is my favourite surface and I feel with my game it's the best chance, apart from hard court, of course, because that is where I have played the most," she says. "I will plan it a bit differently and get better next time."
Placing a finger on why she has not gone past the qualifiers at the Slams, Ankita says: "It depends on a lot of factors like the draw, the venue and things like that. But the Wimbledon qualifying match that I lost at Roehampton, I won the first set, then I was trailing in the 2nd set, but then I fought back. In the 2nd set tie-breaker there were these crucial moments where I felt I could have played a bit more solid and a bit more aggressive."
"These are things you keep working on," she says. "Last year I couldn't play these Slams and now I got back up in the rankings. I was dejected about not qualifying, but at the same time I was happy about that too (being able to play the qualifiers)."