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Indian squad minus Sania leaves for Fed Cup

Nonetheless, captain and coach Enrico Piperno is hoping that the team members deliver the goods, reports Paresh Mokani.

sports Updated: Apr 12, 2007 19:41 IST

The Indian Fed Cup tennis team was scheduled to leave for New Zealand on Thursday to participate in the Asia Oceania Group I & II qualifying round from April 16-18 in Christchurch. But Sania Mirza won’t be on the flight. India’s best player is recovering from a knee surgery.

Nonetheless, captain and coach Enrico Piperno is hoping that the team members - Sunitha Rao, Ankita Bhambri, Shikha Uberoi and Tara Iyer – deliver the goods. India will play a minimum three rounds in the three-day competition. They will play among the following teams - Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, China, Kazakhstan, Korea, Thailand and Uzbekistan.

India missed out on a spot in the World Group II Play-offs when they lost to Australia in the final of Asia/Oceania Zone Group I last year in Seoul. Sania was at her best, winning two singles matches and partnering Shikha Uberoi in doubles. Riding on Sania’s performance, India had defeated Chinese Taipei and New Zealand before facing Australia in the final.

The other time India had come close to a World Group berth was in 2005, when India played without Sania in New Delhi in 2005. India had then defeated Kazakhstan and Singapore en route to the final, where they lost to Korea.

“We will miss Sania,” said Piperno. “She was at her best in the last edition in Korea. Now she is improved much more. However, we have to play without her. But I have hopes from other players, especially Shikha Uberoi and Sunitha Rao. This is a good opportunity for them to prove themselves.”

Sunitha, an American citizen, had applied to the ITF (International Tennis Federation) to represent India. They’ve given her clearance.
The other interesting fact is that Shikha has a very good record in the Fed Cup. She has won six matches and lost only one in singles, while in doubles her win-loss record stands at 3-1.

“Shikha is our hope now,” Piperno said. “She has always played her best in the Fed Cup and this time we are banking on her as well as Sunitha.

“We have four days to practice and any one of Ankita, Sunitha and Shikha could feature in singles, depending on their form. In doubles, probably Shikha will team up with Sunitha. However, it is too early to announce the team composition.”

On newcomer Tara Iyer, he said, “I don’t know much about her. I will see her play and then decide.”

Piperno emphasised that weather could play an important role. “It will be cold there,” he said.

First Published: Apr 12, 2007 19:39 IST