The three Indians with direct entries in the main draw were handed challenging first-round match at the WTA $125K Mumbai Open at the draw ceremony on Saturday.
Karman Kaur Thandi drew top seed and world No 47 Zheng Saisai of China as her first round opponent, while Raina and Rutuja Bhosale set up an all-Indian clash in the first round. The tournament – India’s only event on the Women’s Tennis Association circuit – begins Monday at the Cricket Club of India courts, organised by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association.
World no 195 Raina, the top-ranked Indian women’s singles player, has got a direct entry into the main draw with India No 2 Karman Kaur Thandi and Maharashtra No 1 Rutuja Bhosale getting main draw wildcards. The other two wild cards went to 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki and Kwan-yau Ng, the 21-year-old from Hong Kong who is ranked 865 in the world. Lisicki is a former world No 12 who is currently ranked 220 due to a spate of injuries.
Raina and Bhosale, close friends who train together at the PYC Gymkhana in Pune with coach Hemant Bendrey, will be playing each other for the seventh time on the circuit with the former leading the head-to-head 4-2. But Bhosale had won their most recent encounter, a Round of 16 match at Nonthaburi in Thailand. In fact, Bhosale has beaten Raina twice in the three matches they have played since 2017.
Both the Indian players are well versed with each other’s game and despite the mismatch in rankings – Raina is 195 while Bhosale is world no 368 – the result can go either way.
“We practice together and have played matches against each other a couple of times now. I think we will attract a lot audience as it’s an all Indian match,” Raina told Scroll.in.
The winner of the all-Indian clash will have another big challenge on hand in the second round, with fourth seed Olga Danilovic a likely opponent if she gets the better of Danka Kovinic in the first round.
Challenging for Thandi
But the most challenging first round match will be for 20-year-old Thandi who will take on the top seed Saisai after flying in late due to her final appearance in China. The Top-50 Chinese has plenty of experience and has won the Kunming Open in May this year apart from having five Tour finals to her name. The two met on the WTA circuit earlier this year in the Round of 16 match at Nanchang in China with the local girl beating the Indian 6-4, 6-0.
Thandi, ranked 215, is currently in China, having reached the final of an ITF event which is scheduled for Sunday and will be reaching Mumbai only after that.
If Thandi manages to cause an upset, she will run into the winner of the match between Bibiane Schoofs vs Jana Fett, both experienced players on the circuit.
There could be more Indians players in the main draw yet, as Pranjala Yadlapalli and Mahak Jain crossed the first qualifying round with strong victories and need one more win on Sunday to secure their spots in the 32-strong field.
Earlier on Saturday, Mihika Yadav, Sowjanya Bavisetti and Ashmitha Eeshwaramurthi bowed out in the first round of qualifiers.
The players drawn to face qualifiers in the first round are Irina Khromacheva, Barbora Stefkova, Luksika Kumkhum and Lin Zhu.
In the inaugural edition in 2017, four Indians – Raina, Thandi, Bhosale and Zeel Desai –were given wild cards into the main draw but only Raina had progressed beyond the first round, reaching the quarter-finals.
All three Indians in the main draw have had upward career trajectories in the last year and will hope to boost that momentum with a strong performance at the home WTA event, despite the challenging first hurdle. The doubles draw is yet to be released and could feature more Indian players.