By Mumeninaz Zaman
Tennis player from Guwahati, Raina Zaffar has recently been recruited by the Texas A&M University, one of the top colleges in Texas State and one of the biggest universities in America to play college tennis and pursue her higher education. The recent acclamation is the result of her brilliant sports and academic performance in High School and Senior Secondary School. Raina who has maintained a commendable ITF Juniors World Ranking in tennis plans to pursue Communications and Marketing. She will also represent her University under the National Conference of Athletic Association of America (NCAA) at the pro collegiate level.
Having made a name for herself both in the national and the international arena Raina has achieved a remarkable feat so far. However, it was not a piece of cake for her. With hard work and determination coupled with intense training and juggling between sports and studies, she has thrived to maintain a balance that has gained its due recognition.
Her father Shahnawaz Zaffar is a NIS Patiala trained tennis coach of national fame while her mother Nazneen Zaffar is also an accomplished tennis player. In her parent’s words, Raina was never a competitive child, but always enjoyed challenges.
“My parents have been very positive and helpful in balancing both my studies and sports. They were never too pushy and they always gave me the freedom to make my own decisions,” says 19-year-old Raina.
Raina’s foray into tennis began in 2010 under the coaching of ITF trainer Pinak Bh Gogoi. During her initial days, she also got the opportunity to train under Kawaljeet Singh, soon after she started playing competitive tennis. She played her first tournament in NEFT Guwahati where she competed against two boys. Even though she lost the match it did not deter her from her goal.
Speaking about Singh, Raina says, “The way he described tennis to me, I was fascinated and intrigued by the sport and this has also inculcated the sporting spirit within me.”
Gradually she started competing and soon caught a lot of attention. She has been praised for having perfected bases in a game of complicated grips, footwork, angles, direction etc.
Raina who enjoys counter punching competed for five years in the All India Tennis Association, AITA before she took a leap on the international circuit. She started competing in the International Tennis Federation, ITF junior circuit in 2017 and made her first world ranking points in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The tournaments in Bangladesh gave a huge boost in her rankings both in the world and national rankings. It needs to be mentioned here that she ranked 1144 in the world and 41 in the country in the U-18 category after her tournaments in Bangladesh. This achievement paved a new way for her.
In 2018 Raina moved to Delhi where she underwent gruelling training sessions that helped her to shape her skills in tennis, both mentally and physically. After that there was no looking back, she made it to the finals of three national ranking tournaments within two months of training in Delhi. She also participated in ITF G4 in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and made it to the pre-quarters by beating a local player from Vietnam. She travelled all around Asia for two years participating in various levels of international tournaments in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Bhutan. During the span of eight months, she made it to three quarterfinals in singles and four semifinals in doubles.
Eventually, after her 12th boards, the recruitment process of Texas University took off. “It was a tedious process, but the outcome was worth it,” Raina adds on being recruited by the Texas University that is known both for its academic and athletic excellence. She will be training under her new coach, Autumn Wollenzien. “I am extremely keen on working with Wollenzien, who will be my first female coach,” asserts Raina.
She further informed that the college tennis team is very diverse, as the roster consists of three German’s, a Croatian, a Dutch, a Macedonian, two Americans and herself. She is also glad to have a fellow Assamese, Professor Nirmal Goswami as an advisor for the Women’s tennis team.
Raina who plans to pursue communications with marketing and journalism in the four year programme at Texas says, “It is a very broad programme and I am excited and looking forward to it. It’s going to be a new environment, new country, state and people so I want to be my best self and also try to influence others and also get influenced in a very positive way,” Raina expresses.
On a positive note Raina concludes, “If you like the sport, you have to give all your efforts, as a young sportsperson you have to decide whether you love or enjoy the sport. If you don’t enjoy the sport it will be hard for you to get results. You have to enjoy what you do and things will be quite easier. So as a young sportsperson dream big, no one can stop you from dreaming.”