India braces up for tough FedCup challenge

China is first up for the Indian team in the FedCup Asia-Oceania group-1 tennis tourney.

Photo of Karman Kaur Thandi (left) and Ankita Raina, preparing for the FedCup tennis tournament in New Delhi on Tuesday.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

Can India get off to a good start against China? That will be the main focus for the host in the FedCup Asia-Oceania group-1 tennis tournament to be played at the R. K. Khanna Stadium Complex here from Wednesday.

While the Chinese landed on Tuesday morning, the Indian team has been getting acclimatised to the weather and playing conditions over the past few days.

Read: Indian girls train in strength for Fed Cup

But, as captain Ankita Bhambri pointed out, the Indian girls keep playing around the world, and less at home. Thus, the conditions may be equally foreign to everyone.

"It is going to be tough. Our players have to step it up’’, said Ankita, quite frank about the relative strength of the teams.

It will be a great stage for the wiry 19-year-old Karman Kaur Thandi to open the campaign for India, against the Chinese No.2, Yafan Wang, ranked 158 in the world. If Karman plays her best game, India will have a good chance, as Ankita Raina has been playing pretty sharp.

Moreover, the 259th-ranked Ankita has had a few interesting matches against the Chinese No.1 Lin Zhu, ranked 115 in the world, and be better prepared to record the first win against her.

As captain Ankita Bhambri pointed out, there is depth in the current Indian team. Prarthana Thombare has been playing well in the WTA circuit, reaching a rank of 130 in doubles. Pranjala Yadlapalli the fourth member of the team is ready to play if pressed into service.

In fact, Ankita mentioned about the two reserves, Rutuja Bhosale and Zeel Desai, also projecting a positive image of Indian women’s tennis.

India will play Kazakhstan on the second day. Kazakhstan has the best two players among the eight teams here, in Yuliya Putintseva and Zarina Diyas, ranked 50 and 60 respectively. The team had qualified for the World Group-2 play-off last time when it hosted the Asia-Oceania competition, but lost to Canada.

Captain Dias Doskarayev was quite sober in rating his team and said that rankings were secondary in FedCup and that Asia was the toughest zone to qualify because of many good players and teams.

"Any player called to represent the country, play their best. China, Taipei, Korea, Japan are all tough. India and Hong Kong are capable of giving tough competition’’, observed the Kazakh captain, who recalled his visit to the venue in 1996 as a player.

The Chinese observed that it had ‘’potentially good’’ players and knew the Indian players well. It looked forward to fighting hard to get good results.

The third team to meet for India will be Hong Kong, which has the former Indian Davis Cupper, Karan Rastogi as the captain. In fact, Hong Kong arrived at the venue before the host and has been training diligently.

Karan, quite pleased about Hong Kong graduating from group-2, appreciated the commitment of his second player, Eudice Chong, pursuing her education in the US, making the effort to fly down and be part of the team for the competition.

In Ling Zhang, ranked 330, the Hong Kong team has a dependable player who was ranked as high as 184 in 2011.

As the Indian captain Ankita Bhambri, who also has the experience of being the coach of the women’s team during the Asian Indoor Games last year, it is going to be "tough and exciting competition’’.

The other group has Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Korea and Japan.

"Two years ago we qualified. We lost to Poland in World Group-2 last year, and that is how we are here. We will try to beat the teams here and get back’’, said the Taipei coach, Wang Shi-Ting.

Read: Karman Kaur ready to play a better role

Japan had made the finals of the zone the last two years and had lost to Taipei and Kazakhstan.

"We only hope the Asian team that qualifies from here, does well in the World Group’’, said the Japanese captain, Toshihisa Tsuchihashi.

The top teams from the two groups will meet in the final to decide the team progressing to the World Group-2 play-off. The bottom teams from the two groups will be relegated to group-2.

The primary task for most of the teams, including the host, would be to retain their place in group-1.

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