The former doubles No. 1 is experienced, but Ankita, Nagal have to punch above their weights
India’s faint hopes of a tennis medal at the Tokyo Olympics will rest on Sania Mirza. The former doubles World No. 1 will be making her fourth Olympic appearance and the 34-year-old will have in tow Ankita Raina, six years her junior.
The challenge that awaits the Indian duo, however, will be herculean, with accomplished pairs such as Barbora Krejcikova-Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic (reigning French Open and three-time Major champions), Elena Vesnina-Vera Zvonareva of Russia (both three-time Slam champions) headlining the field.
United States’ Bethanie Mattek-Sands, France’s Kristina Mladenovic, Hungary’s Timea Babos, Belgium’s Elise Mertens and Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka are other notable names, who have 19 Major women’s doubles titles among them.
Sania’s record — three women’s doubles and three mixed-doubles Slam trophies — is similarly noteworthy, but her lack of match practice and current form are worries. In 2021, she has played just eight women’s doubles matches across four tournaments, with a win-loss record of 4-4.
None of these have come with Ankita, with whom Sania last played in the Group I Asia-Oceania Billie Jean King Cup round robin in March 2020, winning all three matches.
Since then, Ankita has entered the doubles top-100, won a WTA Tour-level trophy and featured in multiple Grand Slam main draws. But she will require a once-in-a-lifetime effort to come close to a medal.
In men’s singles, the late entry of Sumit Nagal brought cheer but hopes of a podium finish appear far-fetched. The 23-year-old’s win-loss record of 13-13 since reaching the quarterfinals at the Buenos Aires ATP 250 in March is far from ideal going into an event that is almost Grand Slam-like, with nine of the world’s top-15, including four of the top-five, present.
In fact, the last Indian to win a singles match at the Olympics was Leander Paes in 1996. Ending that drought will be a good achievement.
Nagal and Sania are eligible for mixed-doubles, but with a combined ranking of 153, they may struggle to be among the top-16 teams.