Indian tennis stars need to be tactically smarter, says Billie Jean King Cup captain Vishaal Uppal

Ankita Raina made it to the final round of Australian Open qualifying for the first time

By Deepti Patwardhan ·

India’s last player standing, Ankita Raina, went down 2-6, 6-3, 1-6 to Serbia’s Olga Danilovic in the third round of the Australian Open qualifying event in Dubai on Wednesday. The one glimmer of hope is that she can get through to the main draw of the Melbourne major as a ‘lucky loser’ since she made it to the third round of qualifying.

“There is an outside chance that she may get in,” India’s Billie Jean King Cup captain Vishaal Uppal told the Olympic Channel.

“She (Ankita Raina) has been working quite hard and has come close to making it in the main draw of a Slam for some time now. If anyone deserves a lucky break, it’s her.”

‘Lucky loser’ entry is granted to the highest-ranked player to lose in the third round of qualifying. It can be more than one: depending on the number of main draw entrants that pull out before the Grand Slam starts.

This was also the first time that the 28-year-old player has made it to the final round of qualifying.

None of the other Indian players, men or women, made it to the third round of qualifiers. Karman Kaur Thandi went out 6-7 (4), 6-7 (4) Mariam Bolkvadze in the first round. In the men’s field, 12th seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran, hoping to get through the qualifiers for a third straight year, lost 2-6, 3-6 to Constant Lestienne while Ramkumar Ramanathan, who defeated 10th seed Facundo Bagnis in the opening round, went down 3-6, 2-6 to Wu Tung-lin in the second round.

“I think the men will be disappointed,” says Uppal, former India Davis Cup player.

“Not just because they didn’t qualify but the manner in which they lost. They were pretty straightforward scorelines, and both lost to players ranked lower than them. It just shows again that rankings don’t really matter and at that level you can’t afford to have an off day.”

While Gunneswaran has qualified for a major in the past and played all the four Grand Slam events, the 26-year-old Ramkumar hasn’t made it through in 19 attempts.

Vishaal Uppal with All England Club Head Coach Dan Bloxham

“He just has to keep trying,” says Uppal. “Hang in there and hope that the breakthrough will come. Though given his game, I think his best chance of playing a major will come at either Wimbledon or US Open.”

Uppal is also hoping that the 22-year-old Thandi, one of India’s most promising talents, can stay healthy and fit and make a deeper run in tournaments. For the past two seasons, Thandi has been pegged back by shoulder injury.

Standing tall at 6 feet, Thandi is probably the first Indian women’s player who can serve rockets. She also has massive groundstrokes.

“She’s got the weapons,” says Uppal. “What she needs to do is starting picking up the percentages. I think that will come with maturity. She has a tendency of going for too much. Maybe she needs to learn how to hang in there and be a little more patient.”

The Indian tennis players, Raina and Ramkumar in particular, have been knocking on the door at Grand Slam events for some time now. Uppal, 44, believes they have to keep evolving and adding to their game to take the next step and start playing the majors.

“As a player you have to keep growing,” he said. “Your opponents watch you, analyse you, pick up on your weaknesses. At that level, everyone has the shots. For Indian players to make it through, they have to be tactically smarter, be able to surprise their opponents, do more than they are expected to.”

For now, Raina will have to wait and watch on how the Australian Open draw plays out. India has one guaranteed entry in the first major of the season, though, as Sumit Nagal has been given a wildcard entry into the men’s draw.