India No 1 Ankita Raina emerged on top in a high-octane, all-India clash with a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) win over wild card Rutuja Bhosale in their first-round match at the L&T Mumbai Open late on Wednesday.
It was a match of shifting momentum and hard-hitting tennis as the two friends and former doubles partners fought it out on centre court at the Cricket Club of India. Despite the clock nearing midnight, neither Raina or Bhosale let up on intensity as they pushed each other all over the court. In the end, the match was decided in a tiebreak that could have gone either way, just like the match.
Coached by the same person and at the same academy – Hemant Bendrey at the PYC Gymkhana in Pune – the two know each other’s games perhaps better than any other player on tour. And this knowledge and anticipation was evident as they battled it out in the three-set thriller. Incidentally, the two had mutually decided to not have on-court coaching for this match, to avoid any unpleasantness.
Both Karman Kaur Thandi and Pranjala Yadlapalli had lost their main-draw openers before this match, which ensured that at least one Indian would progress to the second round. The odds may have been with the much higher-ranked Raina who had a 6-2 head-to-head record against her younger opponent, but when the match began there was little to separate the two as they exchange five breaks in quick succession.
The 22-year-old finally consolidated her break at 5-3 as Raina missed her lines and, a couple of games later, served out the first set 6-4 in 40 minutes. While Raina’s first serve was shaky at 46%, she had managed to save more break points while her opponent had saved none.
Bhosale needed a medical timeout between sets as she had her heavily strapped shoulder looked at. The 22-year-old has been struggling with a shoulder injury even last year at the same tournament and it flared up again.
It was probably her injured shoulder that made her serve more susceptible in the second set as Raina broke early to take a 2-0 lead. The wildcard then had some trouble with her shoes, changing the ones she had earlier taped, while the third game was delicately poised on deuce. Despite the brief pause, Raina consolidated and then went a double break up at 4-0. But as was the case with majority of the match, she was broken back soon after before clinching the second set with a break at 6-2.
The 25-year-old Indian’s returns became more cracking in the second set, winning 65% on her opponent’s serve. She also added more bite to her groundstrokes and started mixing it up facing just two break points. Bhosale, however, racked up the error count, impeded by both her shoulder and shoes briefly in the second.
But the decider got the match back on even footing unlike the first two sets where one player had dominated.
Bhosale went 3-0 up blazing her way to double break with her deep returns, incisive strokes and thudding winners. Raina got some her own back as she broke for 1-3 and the began to attack a lot more. At one point, annoyed at herself for playing in her opponent’s hands, Bhosale yelled at herself in Marathi for playing a shot despite knowing it would be returned.
In that moment of high pressure, it was Raina who held her nerve as she broke and consolidated to reduce the deficit. From 1-4 to 5-4, the top-ranked Indian women’s singles player used all her experience to keep send the ball back in play. Serving to stay in the match, Bhosale held twice and enforced a tiebreak at 6-6.
Even the tiebreak saw dramatic shifts of momentum as Bhosale lead 2-1 before going down 2-6 and then clawing back to 5-6. But one backhand long was all it took to finally end the two-hour-17-minute-long contest.
Raina will now play Danka Kovinic, the Montenegro player who stunned fourth seed Olga Danilovic 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, on Thursday. With the dangerous Serbian seed out, the Indian has a chance to replicate her run to the quarter-final like last year.
1st round: 1-Saisai Zheng (CHN) bt Karman Thandi (IND) 6-2, 6-4; Danka Kovinic (MNE) bt 4-Olga Danilovic (SRB) 4-6 ,7-5 ,6-0; 6-Margarita Gasparyan (RUS) bt Tereza Mrdeza (CRO) 6-3, 6-2; 5-Luksika Khum Khum (Thai) bt Pranjala Yadlapalli 3-6, 7-5, 61.
2nd round: Valentini Grammatikopoulou (GRE) bt Deniz Khazaniuk (ISR) 6-3, 4-6, 6-4; 3-Dalila Jakupovic (SLO) bt Sabina Sharipova (UZB) 6-4, 6-2; Irina Khromacheva (RUS) bt Urszula Radwanska (POL) 2-6, 6-1, 6-2;