The temperature outside the Daulet National Tennis Centre in Astana might be below zero degrees, but within it, the fierce rallies from the women hailing from India, Thailand and Kazakhstan will heat up the atmosphere. The 2019 Fed Cup will be underway as India aims for its maiden spot in the World Group II play-offs.
In the Asia/Oceania Group I, India are grouped along with Kazakhstan and Thailand in Pool A. In Pool B, China, Korea, Indonesia and Pacific Oceania will battle against each other. Later, the teams that top the respective pools will play against each other. The winner will make the cut to the World Group II play-offs which will take place in April later this year.
The teams that finish third in each pool will play against each other in a bid to stay in Group I. The losing team will be relegated to Asia/Oceania Group II in 2020. The team that finishes fourth in Group B will be by default sent to the Asia/Oceania Group II.
The Indian Fed Cup team played its first-ever tie in 1991. The Indian women have played for nearly three decades constituting 105 ties in total. However, despite the longevity, India has a win-rate of only 53% at the Fed Cup ties.
Youngest Indian at the Fed Cup:Nirupama Sanjeev
Nirupama Sanjeev was only 15 years old when she first played for India at the Fed Cup in 1992. She has played the most ties for India. She had a win-loss record of 20-8 in singles and 9-6 in doubles.
Oldest Indian at the Fed Cup:
Rushmi Chakravarthi of Chennai was 33 years old when she first played for India in 1994. She had a win-loss record of 11-11 in doubles and 3-7 in singles.
The Indian team led by Vishal Uppal will consist of Ankita Raina, Karman Kaur Thandi, Mahak Jain, Riya Bhatia and Prarthana Thombare. The team is coached by Ankita Bhambri. The injuries of Rutuja Bhosale and Pranjala Yadlapalli paved the way for Mahak Jain and Riya Bhatia.
The Indian No.1 will spearhead the Indian attack in singles. Currently, at a career-high ranking of World No.165 in singles, Raina has been nominated for the sixth time for the Indian Fed Cup team. Raina has played 18 singles ties for India and has won 11 of them. On indoor hardcourts at the Fed Cup, Raina has a win-loss record of 4-6.
"The plan and determination is the same. I have always played my best tennis when playing for the country and hope to do the same. I am not looking at the rankings and focusing on myself and the game I want to execute. Also, I am analysing the opponents' game. I am able to adapt much better since I have been here three times before."
- Ankita Raina
Karman Kaur Thandi
20-years old Karman Thandi is India's second-leading singles tennis player. She will play in her third Fed Cup nomination. Ranked No.211 in the world, Thandi has a win-loss record of 3-4 in singles ties at the Fed Cup. On indoor hard courts, she has a win-loss record of 1-2 at the Fed Cup.
"Going into the Fed Cup this year, definitely I have improved. I have beaten many girls in Top 200 and Top 100 players. I have learnt a lot and ipe to get some wins for India."
- Karman Thandi
Leading India's charge in doubles is Prarthana Thombare who has a win-loss record of 7-2 in singles and 6-4 in doubles. Thombare has an impressive win-loss record of 7-1 in indoor conditions at the Fed Cup.
Born in Bhopal, Mahak Jain makes her debut at the Fed Cup at only 18-years of age.
She last played for India at the Fed Cup in 2017. Riya Bhatia now returns to the Fed Cup team as a doubles player. Bhatia has played only one tie at the Fed Cup in doubles where she partnered Snehadevi Reddy and lost the tie against China.
Preview: THAILAND vs INDIA
Thailand and India have faced each other on 8 occasions at the Fed Cup. The rivalry has been dominated by Thailand who leads 6-2. Since 2004, India and Thailand have played four times and each time the Thai players were victorious. In their solitary indoors tie, Thailand defeated India 3-0 in 2013. The Thai squad, however, is a lot different this year.
The absence of its No.1 player, Luksika Kumkhum is a huge advantage for India. Both Raina and Thandi are ranked much higher in the singles rankings compared to their Thai opponents. All Thai players with the exception of Peangtarn Plipuech are ranked outside the Top 500 in the rankings. India definitely has the upper hand against Thailand.
“The venue is about seven minutes’ drive from the hotel. The courts are low bouncing and a little quick. We got practice on the match courts also. Every day, we have been playing for about four hours in two sessions. Then, the girls do their rehab. The girls are training very sincerely and I am happy with their progress.”
- Vishal Uppal
28 years at the Fed Cup and yet India has never managed to make it to the World Group II playoffs.
The closest they came was in 2006 where India lost in the finals of the Asia/Oceania Group I. Last year, India was nearly on the verge of relegating to the Asia/Oceania Group II. Thanks to Thandi and Raina who managed to defeat the Chinese Taipei to maintain India's position in the Asia/Oceania Group I.
Even if India manages to top Group A this year, it will have a herculean task of defeating the topper from Group B. India trails three of the four teams of Group B in the head to head record. India is 0-5 against China 0-5, 3-4 against Korea and 1-6 against Indonesia in the Fed Cup meetings. India is currently placed at No.32 in the Fed Cup rankings.
Kazakhstan have already got to a flying start in the pool as they defeated Thailand 3-0 earlier today. India faces Thailand tomorrow and Kazakhstan on 8th February 2019.