CHENNAI: Just as the world was preparing to enter a first major lockdown because of the coronavirus in March 2020, the Indian women’s tennis team created history. Taking part in the Fed Cup (since been rechristened as the Billie Jean King Cup) Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie, the squad put together an impressive body of work to qualify for the play-offs for the first time ever.
Sania Mirza, who played her role to perfection by winning all three of the matches she played in, had spoken about its significance last year to the official website. “I think we need to exhale and enjoy this moment too, because this is a huge step for women’s tennis in India,” she told the competition’s organisers. “We are coming from a country where women’s tennis was redundant until maybe 15 years ago.”
In Jurmala, a resort town near the capital city of Riga, Indian women’s tennis will step into unchartered territory on Friday. And going by rankings alone, the tie against Latvia is the quintessential David vs Goliath match-up. Latvia’s two leading singles players are both inside the top 55. One of them, Jelena Ostapenko, who will open the tie for the hosts against Ankita Raina, has a singles Grand Slam to her credit (2017 French Open).
Their leading singles player, Anastasija Sevastova, is fresh of a quarterfinal appearance in Miami, a WTA 1000 meet, earlier this month. So it’s safe to say that Latvia are favourites to advance. But Sevastova, who has been watching YouTube videos of Karman Kaur Thandi, India’s second singles player, dismissed such notions. “We have been preparing for this like any other.”
What could ever so slightly make this a contest is the fact that they are playing on hard court, a surface the Indians like. “We are more comfortable playing on hard,” said Ankita Raina, who will be playing three matches over, including the opener against Ostapenko. The other factor that could settle India’s nerves a bit is the fact they will play without a crowd, as is the norm these days.