SPORT

End of the road for India

NEW DELHI, APRIL 24. It was over before it could begin. The Indian challenge wound up in a whimper, as Thailand raced to a 2-0 victory over the host in the play-off of the Fed Cup Asia-Oceania Group `I' tennis tournament at the R.K. Khanna Stadium here on Saturday.

Once Sania Mirza, playing as the No. 2 for the first time lost in the first singles to the 234th-ranked Suchanan Viratprasert 6-7 (3-7), 1-6, the Indian hopes were ground to dust.

It would have required a miracle or a serious injury to stop the world No.54 Tamarine Tanasugarn in the second singles, and the 371st-ranked Rushmi Chakravarthi found her too hot on way to a 0-6, 1-6 defeat in 42 minutes.

The doubles was abandoned as Thailand had made it to the world group play-off.

Suchanan may have been on a high, having won her maiden Challenger title recently, but she gave enough chances for Sania in both the sets. However, the 411th-ranked Sania was inconsistent and was thus able to convert only one of 11 breakpoints. She did break Suchanan in the tenth game, as the latter delivered a doublefault on breakpoint, after having been broken in the seventh game at love when the Indian girl landed two of her five doublefaults in the match.

In the tie-break, Sania was far too erratic and thus slipped to a 0-5 deficit, from where it was difficult to make a recovery. The 17-year-old could not wipe the disappointment of losing the first set, and missed five breakpoints in the first game of the second.

Suchanan broke Sania in the fourth and sixth games, after the Hyderabad lass had gamepoints in both, and served out the match at love.

In the absence of Isha Lakhani and Megha Vakharia, the fortunes of the Indian team had revolved around Sania in this tournament. It was no surprise that the captain Enrico Piperno asked the girl to handle the task of taking the tie into the doubles, as nobody fancied beating Tamarine. Thrown at the deep end all of a sudden, Rushmi did play well in patches, but it was difficult for her to keep pace with the Thai No.1.

Overall, the primary task of the team was to stay in Group `I', a task that had looked difficult at the beginning as India was drawn in the tougher group with Indonesia, Korea, Uzbekistan and Chinese Taipei. Thanks to Ankita Bhambri winning her first three singles, and the doubles pair of Manisha Malhotra and Sania delivering the key blows in three matches, India was able to progress up to the play-off for the first time.

With a bit of maturity Sania could have helped the team win the tie against the Indonesians in the second singles, but as in today's match, she missed her chances and the team paid for it. Had the Indian team topped the group, which looked a possibility at one stage, it could have got to play the relatively weaker New Zealand.

It was another matter that the fourth-seeded New Zealand was on the verge of pulling a off a coup against Indonesia, before the latter saved two matchpoints in the tenth game of the second set in the decive doubles, in qualifying as the second team for the World Group play-off.

It looked like Jakarta as the Indonesians danced in celebration along with a large number of their local fans.

On its part, India can take solace from the fact that it put up a good fare, and lost only to the top two teams in the tournament.

From Group `II', Kazakhstan and Singapore qualified into Group `I'.

The results:

Play-off: Thailand bt India 2-0 (Suchanan Viratprasert bt Sania Mirza 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; Tamarine Tanasugarn bt Rushmi Chakravarthi 6-0, 6-1).

Indonesia bt New Zealand 2-1 (Marina Erakovic bt Wynne Prakusya 6-2, 6-1; Shelley Stephens lost to Angelique Widjaja 0-6, 3-6; Wynne Prakusya and Angelique Widjaja bt Eden Marama and Paula Marama 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1)

Friday's results: India bt Uzbekistan 2-1 (Manisha Malhotra & Sania Mirza (Ind) bt Ivanna Isroilova & Vlada Ekshibarova (Uzb) 7-6 (21-19), 6-1).

Indonesia bt Korea 2-1 (Sandy Gumulya lost to Jin-Hee Kim 3-6, 1-6; Wynne Prakusya bt Mi-Ra Jeon 7-5, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4; Angelique Widjaja & Wynne Prakusya bt Yoon-Jeong Cho & Kyung-Mi Chang 6-3, 7-5).

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