We have a very real chance against Latvia in Billie Jean King Cup, feels India coach

Former national champion Radhika Tulpule-Kanitkar has been appointed as the coach of the Indian team for the Playoff tie against the Baltic nation
By Deepti Patwardhan

A stronger, fitter Indian team, anchored by Sania Mirza’s experience will give Latvia a run for their money, feels India’s newly appointed Billie Jean King Cup coach Radhika Tulpule-Kanitkar.

Radhika, who has travelled with junior India and Asia teams for international tournaments before this, will be taking charge of the senior women’s team for the very first time. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

The Indian team has made it to the Playoff stages of the women’s team event for the very first time. India defeated Indonesia in the Asia-Oceania Group I event in Dubai last year to make it through to secure a historic berth for the Playoffs.

“As a former player, I am proud to see these girls do so well,” said the 39-year-old Radhika, a former national champion. “This is the first time that India has gone that far in the Billie Jean King Cup (which was called the Fed Cup earlier). And it’s a huge opportunity.”

India will take on take on Lativa at the National Tennis Centre Lielupe on April 16-17 in Jurmala. The winner of the tie will progress to the qualifiers, one step closer to the 12-team Finals. The Indian team comprises of Mirza, Ankita Raina, Rutuja Bhosale, Karman Kaur Thandi, Zeel Desai and Riya Bhatia (reserve). Former India Davis Cup player Vishaal Uppal will be the non-playing captain.

On Friday, Radhika was appointed the coach of the Indian team for the April tie.

“I was not expecting it at all,” says the former Fed Cup player, who now runs her own Academy. “But I am thrilled to be taking on the role, especially for such an important match.”

Radhika, who retired in 2003, knows most of India’s key players well. She has played with Mirza and the two have won the ITF Futures doubles title in Manila in 2002. Since she is based in Pune, like Bhosale and Raina, she already has a rapport with the two.

“I think we have a strong team, and a very real chance against Latvia,” she said. “Sania has already shown her magic in Dubai (Fed Cup, 2020). Ankita is playing very well at the moment. Earlier, we used to rely on our number one player to take us through. But, I think, in this team every member can contribute in singles as well as doubles.”

For the 28-year-old Raina, who will be India’s No 1 singles player in the tie, 2021 has been a breakthrough year. She made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open and became the first Indian since Mirza to win a WTA title when she clinched the doubles trophy at Phillip Island tour event.

“I think there has been great improvement since my playing days,” adds Radhika. “They are much stronger athletes and focus not just on the game but the whole package: fitness, nutrition, hiring physios and mental trainers. They also have access to information, which we didn’t quite have. They are much better players and I think we have a very balanced team.”

Even though the Indian team, with history on the line, is brimming with belief, they have a tough task ahead.

Latvia, who will be playing at home, have two very strong singles players in Anastasija Sevastova and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. Dauntingly for India, Ostapenko and Sevastova were instrumental in defeating a USA team, with the likes of Sofia Kenin and Serena Williams in its ranks, in the previous round.