Chinese team arrives in full strength to face India

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Chinese team arrived in strength with Athens Olympics doubles gold medallists and two top 100 singles players for the Asia Oceania group `I' Fed Cup tennis tournament to be played at the DLTA Complex here from April 19 to 23.

The Chinese had a rigorous workout on a warm day and will be keen to grab the lone qualifier's spot for the World Group play-off from the eight-team zone. In the last edition played here, the Chinese did not have their top players.

The captain of the Chinese team Hong-Wei Jiang was quite happy about leading a strong team that has Olympic gold medallists Ting Li and Tian Tian Sun apart from the Asian champion the 42nd-ranked Na Li and the 69th-ranked Jie Zheng. The only top player who had opted out of the event was the 48th-ranked Shuai Peng.

However, the 48-year-old Jiang downplayed the strength of his team as he tried to emphasise the difference in playing on the professional tour and playing a tournament as a team.

"We will try and do our best. It is quite different from playing a WTA event. You need more unity and more communication in team competition. The coach has to give the right advice as well," said the Chinese captain.

Well equipped

Unlike the Chinese Davis Cup team that had come unprepared and even without grasscourt shoes last month for the Asia-Oceania group `I' tie that India had won handily 5-0, the Chinese women's team sounded confident and well equipped.

"We know that Australia is without Alicia Molik and Nicole Pratt. We also know that the No. 1 Indian girl Sania Mirza whom Na Li had beaten in the Asian championship final is injured. Of course, we have to try to play to our level to qualify from here," said Jiang after the team, that had landed early on Saturday, wound up its practice session in the evening.

The Australian team had only the 111th-ranked Evie Dominikovic training with captain John Alexander while the rest were scheduled to reach on Sunday.

The 52nd-Samantha Stosur will lead the Australian challenge in the absence of world No.9 Alicia Molik. It was indeed a setback for Australia as the 92nd-ranked Nicole Pratt, who had won the Hyderabad Open in 2004, pulled out at the last minute. She has been replaced by the 237th-ranked Sophie Ferguson while Bryanne Stewart will be the fourth player.

The Australian trainer Giselle Tirado was on hand to help the lone player, and said that the other players would be flying down from the US on Sunday.

In the Indian camp, Shikha Uberoi continued to sweat it out in two sessions. Ankita Bhambri played in the evening session and had a fruitful sparring stint with Shikha on the centre court, while the reserves Punam Reddy and Sanaa Bhambri too had a long session.

Captain Enrico Piperno may opt to have some training under the artificial lights as well in the next couple of days. In fact, the Korean and the Australian teams made it a point to get used to playing under the floodlights straightaway.

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