Ankita Raina’s gallant fight ended in defeat yet again as she went down to world No 47 Anastasija Sevastova in the must-win Play-offs match on Saturday send the Indian team back to the Asia/Oceania Group of the Billie Jean King Cup.
After her phenomenal battle against 2017 French Open champions Jelena Ostapenko on Friday, the India No 1 again showed stomach for fight against superior players but Sevastova sealed the match to give her side an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Ranked 174, Raina lost the first reverse singles match 0-6, 6-7(4) to the highest ranked player of the tie, who had got the better of Serena Williams in her team’s previous tie against the USA.
India had earned promotion to the World Group Play-offs for the first time in the history of the tournament.
Raina rallied impressively after being bageled in the opening set and had two set points at 5-2 in the second set but failed to convert. After those chances were blown away, Sevastova reeled off four games in a row to gain an edge.
But there was a final twist as the Indian saved a match point and then broke back to force a tie-breaker, where Sevastova’s immense experience helped her seal the tie.
In the first set, a forehand from Raina sailed over the baseline on the breakpoint, giving the Latvian a break in the very first game. Sevastova made it 2-0 even as the Indian stretched the game with her fierce returns.
In the third game, Raina netted a backhand on the game point to be in danger again but found a crushing backhand winner down the line to be on advantage point.
However, the crafty Sevastova had Raina running on both the flanks and eventually made it deuce.
A second double fault from Raina at deuce gave Sevastova a chance to get the second break for a 3-0 lead and she got it when Raina made a backhand error with a feeble single-hand return that did not cross the net.
The Indian could not get on even board with Sevastova calling the shots. However, there was drama in the second set with Raina yet again surprising the home camp by rising her game by a few notches.
A backhand error from the Latvian gave her two breakpoints in the second game and another one gave the Indian a 2-0 lead in the second set.
Raina made it 3-0 by serving the next game at love. However the cushion was lost when she dropped her serve in the fifth game due to unforced errors.
A series of unforced errors from the home player meant that the Indian got another break in the sixth game when Sevatova buried her backhand on the net to give up a 4-2 lead, which became a handsome 5-2 with a confident hold.
Raina had a chance to close the set in her favour in the next game and force a decider but Sevastova served well to save both.
From there on, it was Sevastova who controlled the game, though Ankita saved a couple of match points.
The fourth singles match, to be played between Karman Kaur Thandi and Ostapenko, was cancelled.
With PTI Inputs