The first aim for the Indian team for the Fed Cup World Group-1, to be held in Astana from February 6 to 9, will be to top the group ahead of host Kazakhstan.
Looking ahead to the tourney, captain Vishaal Uppal declared, “I am very optimistic.” He had reason to be so, as Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi have stepped it up in recent past, and are possibly playing their best tennis at the moment. Gauging the chances of the two teams, Vishaal said, “Last time we lost the doubles against Kazakhstan. Ankita and Karman are playing much better doubles now. We have a good chance.”
Ankita Raina had beaten Yulia Putintseva in the tie against Kazakhstan last year, when India hosted the Fed Cup in Delhi. But the wiry Karman could not pull her weight then, in her tie. In 2019, once again, Putintseva, the World No. 41, will spearhead the Kazakh challenge, along with the 96th ranked Zarina Diyas.
“We first play Thailand. Thailand will not have its No. 1 player, Luksika Kumkum (the World No. 83),” noted Vishaal.
‘Better group’ for India
Peangtarn Plipuech, ranked 286, will be the main player for Thailand. “We are definitely in a better group,” coach Ankita Bhambri said.
Favourite China, Indonesia, South Korea and Pacific Oceania form the other group. China and South Korea will be formidable teams. The group toppers will fight for the only qualification spot available from the zone for the next stage. Two teams will be relegated to Group-2.
“It is a good thing that our players have been busy in tournaments. In fact, Mahak Jain and Riya Bhatia are competing in Jodhpur this week. We are scheduled to reach Astana early, so as to get acclimatised to the conditions and prepare well,” said Vishaal.
The tie is scheduled to be held indoors, as the outside temperature is expected to be in the negative, below freezing point. “The team is hungry. So, I am expecting good matches,” said Vishaal.
Ankita Raina has risen to her career-best rank of 168 as she won a title recently, in Singapore, after bowing out in the second round of the Australian Open qualifying event. The tall Karman, ranked 210, will be keen to demonstrate her improvement from last year.
Vishaal hoped the visa would be stamped in time for the team to prepare in right earnest in Astana. The absence of Pranjala Yadlapalli and Rutuja Bhosale, owing to injuries, could be felt, but the good form of Ankita and Karman should keep the team in the race. “For our team, it is a matter of three days of competition. [I’m] sure Ankita and Karman will be able to share the load, as they are professionals . If we aspire to achieve something, we have to be ready to fight it out in every rubber,” said Vishaal.
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