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All eyes on Ankita and Karman as Fed Cup challenge begins
 
New Delhi, Feb 6 (PTI) It will be an uphill task for Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi to catapult India to the Fed Cup World Group Play-offs but the spirited youngsters are expected to push their rivals in the Asia/Oceania Group I competition, beginning here tomorrow.

India have not qualified for the Fed Cup World Group since 1991 and presence of strong teams such as Kazakhstan, who have top-60 players in their ranks, and China in Pool A means that the job remains tough.

Both Ankita and Karman had decent, if not great, 2017 season during which they were consistent on the ITF circuit.

Ankita also reached the singles finals at the USD 60,000 event in Luan.

Ankita has the experience of tackling top-125 players and knows what is required to pull off matches in this competition. Being the number one and most experienced player from the host team, Ankita will carry a lot of expectations on her shoulders.

But she appears confident and is raring to pull off a good performance.

"We are very positive going into this tie. We have upcoming players in the team and that will be a surprise factor for other teams. And the way I am playing, I am pretty confident about good results," Raina told PTI after a practice session.

It will be a tough and challenging first day of the tournament for India as the hosts are up against against China in their campaign opener.

Raina will lock horns with world number 120 Lin Zhu, to whom she had lost the title clash of the Luan event in May, last year.

"There is not much difference in the level of players on the ITF circuit and players on some of the WTA events. I have competed against these players before. I just need to be more consistent," Raina, ranked 253, said.

Delhi-player Karman too did well in 2017, as twice she made the singles final apart from making a lot of semifinals at the USD 25,000 level tournaments.

She will open India's campaign against world number 125 Wang Yafan.

"I want to move a step ahead and do well in this Fed Cup.

I have played good matches in the last six months but the hard work has been there for some years now," said Karman, who leaped 300 places to break into top-300 in 2017.

"They are not unbeatable. Team events are different from circuit," said Karman, ranked 284.

India captain Ankita Bhambri made it clear that home conditions would not make much of a difference.

"Both our players are coming from tournaments. We have practiced on these courts for three days now. It's going to be tough. Most of them play less here and more outside, so there is not much of a home advantage," Bhambri, herself a former Fed Cup player, said.

Raina has competed against top players like Lin Zhu and what she needs to do to pull off matches against such rivals, Bhambri's response was, "Ankita needs to play bigger points well, the deuce points, need to hold serve. It's one good break that makes the difference."

Prarthana Thombare has also improved since shifting her focus to doubles and if Pranjala Yadlapalli gets to play,she will make her Fed Cup debut.

However, the competition is stiff with teams such as Kazakhstan fielding strong players such as world number 50 Yuliya Pitintseva and world number 60 Zarina Diyas.

Japan too has a top-100 player in world number 98 Nao Hibino along with Kurumi Nara, who is ranked 103.

India have been clubbed with Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and China. The Group B comprises Japan, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Korea.

The Indian team has done well to remain in Group I and has not lost its place after reclaiming it in 2016.

Before the Indians had struggled to get out of the Asia/Oceania Group II.

India featured in World Group in July 1991 when they lost both their ties to Cuba and Thailand by a 0-3 margin in Great Britain.

The winners of each pool will play-off against one another to determine which nation advances to the World Group II play-offs, scheduled in April 2018.

The teams that finish third in each pool will have a play-off against the nations finishing fourth in the other pool (A3 v B4 and B3 v A4). The two losers will be relegated to Asia/Oceania II in 2019.


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