Ankita Raina’s red-hot form and Sania Mirza’s assuring presence will give India a much better shot at the Play-offs place when the six-team Fed Cup competition begins in Dubai from Tuesday.
India will begin their campaign by locking horns with China on Tuesday and are scheduled to clash with Uzbekistan (Wednesday), Korea (Thursday), Chinese Taipei (Friday) and Indonesia (Saturday) during the week.
Ankita has been in tremendous form since the start of the season, winning two ITF singles and as many doubles titles.
She is placed at a career-best 160 in the singles ranking chart but during the Fed Cup the gritty Ankita has always punched above her weight, giving tough times to formidable opponents.
She would be captain Vishal Uppal’s biggest weapon apart from multiple-time doubles Grand Slam champion Sania, who is returning to Fed Cup after four years.
The three-week delay in the start of the tournament due to Coronavirus outbreak has given Sania a chance to recover from her calf injury which had forced her to retire mid-way from her Australian Open women’s doubles opener.
Her experience of playing and winning at the big stage will help younger players in the side in handling the pressure situations better.
“I had a good start to the season, so I am confident going into the competition. And definitely Sania will inspire all of us to give our best. Her advise and tips will be more than helpful,” admitted Ankita.
Riya Bhatia rose in the ranks and her new-found confidence will be good for India’s chances. Karman Kaur Thandi has slipped in rankings after an injury and it will be an opportunity for the tall Delhi girl to not only regain her confidence but also help the team qualify for the next stage.
India had finished fourth at the Asia/Oceania Group I event but this year they have a realistic chance to make it to top-two.
With three top-50 players, China will test Indian players the most in the Asia/Oceania Group I competition, where the top two teams will be promoted to the Play-offs, to be held on April 17-18.
Qiang Wang (ranked 29), Saisai Zheng (34) and Shuai Zhang (35) make a formidable trio in the Chinese side, which missed out on promotion last year after losing 1-2 to hosts Kazakhstan.
Another side which may trouble India would be Chinese Taipei, who have Su-Wei Hsieh in their ranks.
It should not be problem for India to handle the challenge of Indonesia and Uzbekistan, though Korea have some good players.
“Yes, we have a very realistic chance of qualifying. The team is upbeat and hungry and with Sania in the squad it makes us stronger in doubles which has bolstered our chances,” Uppal told PTI.
He was bullish about India’s chances even against China.
“Of course China are the favourites, having said that I feel the best time to upset a top team is in the first match as there will be some nerves.”
Ankita echoed the same sentiment.
“Anything is possible, that’s what I believe,” she said.
Uppal said Sania’s presence makes a big difference.
“Obviously having Sania in the team is a big bonus. The whole team looks up to her and having her around does give the girls a boost. I think it also will play on the minds of other teams as they now know we will be much more potent in doubles.”
Talking about the conditions, Uppal said,”It gets a bit cool in the evenings, so weather is not going to be an advantage or disadvantage for anyone.”
“All the girls are working hard and there was good energy in the team on and off the court. I have my plans prepared but they will be based on situations that may arise,” he said.