“I think we have a great team at the moment. We are excited and ready to give more than our best” – Ankita Raina

The Indian team has reached Latvia and will play their first ever world group playoffs match of the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) tournament which starts tomorrow. The draw ceremony was held today at the National Tennis Center in Jurmala, Latvia. Both the teams were present at the venue and the draw was broadcasted live by the Latvian Tennis Union on Facebook. The match-ups are as follows:

16th April:

Ankita Raina vs Jelena Ostapenko
Karman Kaur Thandi vs Anastasija Sevastova

17th April:

Ankita Raina vs Anastasija Sevastova
Karman Kaur Thandi vs Jelena Ostapenko
Ankita Raina/Sania Mirza vs Diana Marcinkevica/Daniela Vismane

The draw ceremony was followed by a press conference where both the teams were present to answer a few questions from the media.

Questions to the Latvian team:

What do you think of the draw ?

Anastasija Sevastova: We are ready for this draw and we are ready for what’s to come tomorrow. It’s going to be tough playing without any spectators at home. We are just glad to play and we have to give our best.

The hard courts are good for team India but we are playing at home and have this home feeling. We know the courts here and the facilities. It’s a small advantage for us.

Rebranding Billie Jean King Cup. How does it change the perception of the world for women’s sport?

Anastasija Sevastova: Billie Jean King did so much for WTA. Without her, there won’t be any WTA so we have to be grateful for that.

Having beaten Serena Williams, how easy or difficult is it to prepare for a match like this when you might not have played these kinds of players?

Anastasija Sevastova: Every player is tough to play. I know Ankita. I know how she plays. Karman I don’t know her that much. I was watching some YouTube videos and they are preparing like any other match. It’s not going to be easy since it’s Billie Jean King Cup and when you play for your country, it’s always open until it’s closed.

Questions to the Indian team:

What do you think of the draw?

Vishal Uppal: We are quite excited to be here. We’ve got the draw we’d like. It’s good for us that our no. 1 player goes up first and obviously it’s going to be a tough time for us but we’ve been preparing well and enjoying the conditions here and we are ready to put up a tough fight.

Ankita Raina: Yeah, it’s a historic tie for us and it’s a strong team but we are ready for this challenge. I’m glad to have this opportunity. I’ve got the best tennis whenever I’ve played for my country so I’m excited for the tie.

Talking about the courts as the Latvian team has said that the hard courts suit you more. How do you feel that evens out about the chances in this tie?

Vishal Uppal: We are more comfortable playing on hard courts than we are perhaps on clay. More than the courts, there will be no home crowd support. That gives us a slightly better chance. This is the first time we have got to this stage and the pressure which the home crowd can put is not going to be there, so I think we will be a little bit more at ease, knowing that there won’t be 5000 people screaming and shouting at us but it also takes away the fun from a cup tie.

Do you also feel that playing in a quieter court gives you an advantage or do you rather have the crowd behind you or against you which causes you to play any better?

Ankita Raina: When you’re playing at home, you’d like to have the crowd but otherwise it doesn’t make a difference to me if you have the crowd or not.

Do you remember playing against Anastasija in India?

Ankita Raina: Yeah, it was home for me when I played in Ahmedabad against Anastasija in the Finals. It was home conditions for me back then. It’s been some time now and I’m really looking forward to the match tomorrow.

Tell us about your team’s journey and how was the training here at Jurmala?

Ankita Raina: We are excited to be here and it’s the first time we are playing the world group playoffs so we’re really pumped up. I think we have a great team at the moment. We are excited and ready to give more than our best.

Anastasija just said that these are slow indoor courts. How does it affect you? Is it good for you?

Ankita Raina: I’ve mostly played on hard courts (hard-fast and hard-slow) in most of the tournaments. Comparatively if it is on clay or hard, it is definitely better to play on hard but it’s a new match, a new day every time and whenever any player is playing for the country they are giving more than the best.

You mentioned that you like the way the draw has panned out but Ankita would be playing 3 matches and how does that affect our chances and did you give any weightage to that factor?

Vishal Uppal: Ankita is a professional. She knows coming to this tie what is expected of her and just like everyone else, she is prepared to do whatever it takes for us to win this tie. She has to play 3 matches then so be it and she is going to be ready for it.

You’ll be playing 3 matches in 2 days. You’ve played singles and doubles before but do you enjoy this kind of challenge?

Ankita Raina: I’ve got my best results when representing my country and even in earlier groups we were playing throughout the week every day I was playing 2 matches and usually every tournament I play both singles and doubles so more than ready for this challenge.

Do you also feel that everything’s gone well and preparations too?

Karman Kaur Thandi: Yes we have been preparing well and the conditions and everything are in favor. Me and Ankita like to play on hard courts and it doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow, it’s a good opportunity to play against some good players here and we are looking forward to this.

Do you think the name of the tournament Billie Jean King Cup is a good profile to the competition and to the sport?

Karman Kaur Thandi: It’s an honor. Billie Jean King has been a player who always stood up for equality and social justice and to play with this brand of Billie Jean King Cup, I think it’s a big thing for us and moving forward it’s going to have generations followed by and it’s an honor for us as well to represent this brand.

This is a new format not just for you but for most nations. I just want to know if this format gives the team more of a chance to get into a contest mentally and you know get to the competition?

Vishal Uppal: You’re playing for your country and you have to be in it mentally from the get go from the first point to the last. That’s what we have come here to do. We want to make sure that we are fighting for every point and we want to take the battle to the higher ranked Latvian team and that’s why the team competition is so exciting. Rankings go out of the window when it’s a team competition. It depends on how you play on that day. I think our team is prepared well. We are all quite excited to play this tie. The only difference is in qualifications, you play 2 singles and a doubles and then the next day you have to play a different country. But here we have got to play the same team 2 days in a row, so there will be a lot of learnings on day 1 and we’ll see what we can tweak on.

What makes you play Karman and not Rutuja?

Vishal Uppal:  It was a very tough decision. All the 5 players have been really working hard and they’ve put their best foot forward trying to prepare themselves for this tie. I felt that Karman could give us a little extra and it was a very tough decision and I guess I have gone with my gut.

Karman you’ve played a few matches after a bit of an injury layoff. How are you feeling physically and also tennis wise how are you feeling?

Karman Kaur Thandi: I am feeling physically good right now, perfectly fine with my shoulder and everything else is coming along good. I’ve played some matches in the last 3 weeks to get back in the groove which I think has gone well for me and I am ready to take on this challenge now.

Does it surprise you that the Latvian team has decided to go on with indoor hard instead of clay which probably would have been tougher for our players?

Vishal Uppal: I was a little surprised when initially I saw that we are playing on indoor hard. I thought we would be playing on indoor or outdoor clay. You know the Latvian team has very highly ranked players, excellent players, and it does kind of give us a better chance and thank you Latvia for that.

Rishab is a tennis/table tennis player

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