Ankita Raina became just the second Indian woman after Sania Mirza to medal in the singles event at the Asian Games after losing 4-6, 6-7 (6) to world No. 34 Zhang Shuai in the semifinals on Thursday. The loss means Raina will take away a bronze medal as both losing semifinalists win bronze. Mirza had won a silver in 2006 and a bronze in 2010.
The men's doubles pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan advanced to the final after a hard-fought 4-6, 6-3, (10-8) win against the Japanese duo of Kaito Uesugi and Sho Shimabukoro in their semifinal.
Raina, who is ranked 155 spots below Zhang in the world rankings, was the better player in the initial exchanges as she broke Zhang in the second game of the match. Raina was broken back in the next game, however, and a pattern of exchanged breaks repeated itself before Zhang managed a service hold for 3-3. Serving at 4-4, 40-30, a couple of attacking points by Zhang brought up break point for the Chinese, who converted to lead 5-4 thanks to a netted backhand by the Indian. Zhang held serve to take the first set in 54 minutes.
The second set was just as back-and-forth as the first. Zhang began by breaking in the first game, thanks to a forehand that clipped the net, before Raina broke right back. The Chinese then broke in the next game by putting away a short ball with an attacking forehand, and then held for 3-1. Raina then won the next three games to lead 4-3 before Zhang managed a service hold. In the tiebreak, Zhang had two match points at 6-4, but Raina saved both, including one with a running forehand scoop. However, a couple of netted backhands in succession gave Zhang another match point and then the win.
Raina is easily having her best year on the circuit this year. In March, she won the $25,000 ITF tournament in Gwalior -- her first singles title in over three years. Her previous win was at the Pune ITF in December 2014.
The past six months have been life-changing for Ankita. In April, she became only the fifth Indian female player -- after Sania Mirza, Nirupama Vaidyanathan, Shikha Uberoi and Sunitha Rao -- to move into the top 200. She celebrated by crying in her hotel room in Kashiwa, Japan, where she had travelled for an ITF tournament. "I thought of how badly I wanted to be in the top 200 all these past years. All the struggles, challenges and doubts I'd fought came flooding back. But I know without all of it I wouldn't be the person I am today. Sometimes I see a little girl playing at my club and I feel she's trying so hard and that motivates me. It also reminds me of my own childhood days," she had told ESPN back then.
She'll also be in action in the mixed doubles quarterfinals with Rohan Bopanna.