It was only late last evening that Ramkumar Ramanathan and Ankita Raina learnt that they were to take on compatriots Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna in the first round at Wimbledon.
Raina said, “I was excited. I never ever imagined I would play against Sania.”
There were smiles all around Court No. 8 at the All England Club, the scene of the all-Indian garden party. With a dress code.
India’s Olympic (2016) pairing Sania and Bopanna came through 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), but it wasn’t without a fight. The spirit of the 69-minute encounter was accentuated by the camaraderie.
Ramkumar, who went down in five sets in the final qualifying round in singles last week, hung around hoping for a lucky loser spot. He got his opportunity in the mixed doubles. “All of us Indians are always together,” Ramkumar said. “The sign-in deadline was 11 am, I asked the referee and we signed up at 10.30.”
Ramkumar and Raina, who were four out after the sign-in, replaced the Hungarian pair of Marton Fucsovics and Timea Babos, which sparked a series of firsts for India on the Grand Slam stage. Ramkumar’s debut completed the first all-Indian meeting in a Grand Slam in the Open Era.
With Ankita playing her third major, this was also the first time two Indian women have featured in a Grand Slam main draw. Sania and Bopanna last shared a court in the Rio Olympics, where they just missed a podium finish. They were able to pick it up from the get-go on Friday afternoon. Next up is the British pair of Aidan McHugh and Emily Webley-Smith, who replaced top seeds Nicolas Mahut and Kristina Mladenovic of France.
“At the end of the day, you have the friendship whatever happens on the court,” said Bopanna, who was particularly sharp at the net. “We’re professionals. Though I wish we didn’t have to play them in the first round.” Sania echoed the sentiment. “It’s great to have another Indian girl in the main draw, someone who is eager to make it to the Grand Slam. I wish we didn’t have to play them today, it’s never nice to play friends.”
India’s Divij Sharan and his British wife Samantha Murray Sharan moved into the second round of the mixed doubles, beating Uruguay’s Ariel Behar and Kazakh Galina Voskoboeva 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.