Indian tennis players only need a miraculous performance to get closer to the medal rounds as an under-prepared side of Sania Mirza and debutante Ankita Raina face a tough Ukrainian challenge in the match d opening while Sumit Nagal has a tough singles draw. from Saturday.
Mirza, who is making a record-breaking fourth Olympic appearance, and debutante Raina go to the Olympics without playing a single competitive game together this year, which is far from ideal preparation for the biggest sporting event in the world.
The last time Mirza and Raina shared the pitch was in March 2020 during the Billie Jean King Cup.
They will open their campaign against the Ukrainian twin sisters Nadiia and Lyudmyla Kichenok.
“Each game is going to be a challenge and we will take one game at a time. Due to the pandemic and quarantine rules, we played different tournaments. So after the Fed Cup we didn’t have the chance to play together.” , Raina told PTI. .
However, Mirza has a lot of experience and she plays with a player who is known to strike over her weight while representing the nation.
Raina has a big heart for the fight, but it will all depend on how Mirza performs, who has not been in top form with her serve being a problem.
At the recent Wimbledon Championships, Mirza gradually improved his game from baseline, but his weak serve was easily attacked by rivals.
Interestingly, when Mirza returned to competitive tennis after the COVID-19-induced hiatus in March this year, she and her Slovenian partner Andreja
Klepac had faced the same pair of Ukrainian sisters and won.
Ranked as low as 137 after the maternity break, Mirza, 34, has only made eight appearances this season with a 4-4 win-loss record.
Raina, 28, ranked 100, has only one main draw victory in singles since the start of the 2021 season.
In doubles, she clinched her first-ever WTA title with partner Kamila Rakhimova at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne in February and made her way into the doubles top 100, but suffered five straight first-round losses thereafter.
Without Mirza’s protected standings at nine, India would not have a women’s doubles team at the Games.
In contrast, 44th-ranked Nadiia had played eight WTA Tour events with her 48th-ranked sister Lyudmyla Kichenok in 2020 and one this year.
Together they haven’t seen much success, but Nadiia has otherwise achieved decent results with Romania’s Raluca Olaru in 2021.
They took victory in St. Petersburg (WTA 500) in March and reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart (WTA 500) in April and finished second in Bad Homburg last month.
If Mirza and Raina win their opener, they could face America’s eighth seed Nicole Melichar (world number 9) in doubles and Alison Riske (world number 36 singles) in the next round.
In men’s singles, Nagal is extremely fortunate to get an entry in the Olympics as with a rank of 144 on the June 14 deadline, he was nowhere near making the cut.
However, a wave of withdrawals pushed him inside.
Nagal’s recent performances do not inspire confidence although at the start of the season he scored the biggest victory of his career, beating world number 22 Cristian Garin.
However, after that, he only managed two quarterfinal appearances at Challenger level, struggling poorly on the Tour.
Nagal had hinted that he was having some health issues and that was the reason he wasn’t getting the results he wanted.
He faces Asian Games champion Denis Istomin in his first round. The Uzbekistan veteran won the Jakarta 2018 Games quota by winning the men’s singles title.
The crusher that is Nagal, it is possible that he will overtake the 34-year-old Uzbek, but the Indian could face world number two and Australian Open finalist Danill Medvedev of Russia and that could be the end out of the way for him.