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Sri Lanka women’s tennis to break six-year jinx

by Revata S. Silva

The 16-year-old Jithmie Jayawickrema holds a current ITF Combined Rank of 389 to carry Sri Lanka’s hopes in this year’s Fed Cup.

A four-member Sri Lanka team will play in Fed Cup, the virtual world cup of women’s tennis and the women’s version of Davis Cup, this year after a lapse of six years.

A team features an experienced player Mahesha Seneviratne, along with top three local women’s players, Jithmie Jayawickrema, a three times and current National women’s champion, Amritha Muttiah and Nilupul Goonesekara. They are now training at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association for this year’s Asia-Oceania Zone, Group-III event to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, on outdoors hard surface, from January 28 to February 3. The Non Playing Captain of the team is Niranjan Cassie Chetty.

The nine nations taking part in this year will be: Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Rep. of Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria and Turkmenistan.

There will be a round-robin format in this year’s event where the proposed nine participating nations will be divided into a pool of five and another pool of four.

The winner of each pool will play against the runner-up in the other pool to determine which two nations are promoted to Group-II in 2009.

Before the regional qualifying competitions began in 1992, due to the massive rise of the number of participating nations, Sri Lanka featured in the Word Group for two years since her debut in Fed Cup in 1990. Sri Lanka was in Asia-Oceania Group-I from ’92-95. She was demoted to Group-II in ’95.

Fed Cup, which is regarded the women’s version of Davis Cup, began in 1963 as part of the 50th year celebrations of the International Tennis Federation and is believed a brainchild of (Ms) Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. (Ms) Nell Hopman and (Ms) Mary Hardwick Hare are regarded the orchestrators of this virtual world cup of women’s tennis since Queen’s Club, London, hosted its first tie between Australia and USA. The event, which featured 16 countries at its inauguration, has now grown up immensely and the last year’s Cup attracted 82 countries.

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History of the Fed Cup

Fed Cup is the premier team competition in women's tennis, launched in 1963 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the International Tennis Federation.

The Concept

The idea for the event can be traced back to 1919, when Mrs Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman came up with the concept for a women's team competition. When this was rejected, she instead presented a trophy in 1923 for an annual contest between the United States and Great Britain, who were at that time the strongest tennis-playing nations.

Mrs Nell Hopman, wife of the legendary Australian Davis Cup Captain Harry Hopman, later took up Mrs Wightman's original idea. In 1962, when a British resident of the United States, Mary Hardwick Hare, presented a dossier proving that support for such an event was overwhelming, the ITF was persuaded that a team championship played over one week in a different venue each year was a 'good idea'.

It had taken forty years for Wightman’s idea of a women’s Davis Cup to become a reality. Finally in 1963, the ITF launched the Federation Cup to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Open to all nations and not just USA and Great Britain, the much awaited competition became a resounding success.

The Early Years

Played over one week in a different venue each year, the inaugural event attracted 16 countries. The competition was supported by the top players right from the start. Held at the Queen’s Club, London, the first contest between Australia and USA set the tone with Grand Slam champions Darlene Hard, Billie Jean King, Margaret Smith and Lesley Turner all proudly representing their country on court. It was somehow appropriate that Margaret Court and Billie Jean King, such proponents of the competition, clashed in the final of the inaugural Federation Cup final. The United States emerged the champion nation and has since put their mark on the competition, collecting a record 17 titles over the years.

The Fed Cup Expands and Evolves

That first Federation Cup had attracted entries from 16 teams, a respectable number considering that there was no prize money and teams had to meet their own expenses. Sponsorship would later enable this number to expand dramatically, first by the Colgate Group in 1976, and, from 1981 to 1994 by the Japanese communications and computer giant NEC.

By 1994, 73 nations competed, and the host nation of a Federation Cup week was now required to build a special tennis complex, giving rise to what became known as the

Federation Cup "legacy." In addition to the kudos of showcasing the premier international women's team competition, nations viewed their involvement as providing an unprecedented opportunity for their national game to develop.

The Format

The rise in entries led to the creation of regional qualifying competitions in 1992 and, subsequently in 1995, the Federation Cup adopted a new format and shortened its name to the Fed Cup. Having seen the great success that the home-and-away format had achieved in Davis Cup, the format for the Fed Cup was changed in 1995 so that women, as well as men, could play for their country in their country. While the format has been adjusted several times since 1995, the current format, introduced in 2005, incorporates an eight Nation World Group 1 and eight nation World Group II playing both home-and-away over three weekends throughout the year.

Fed Cup Today

The competition celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2003 and it is a fitting tribute to this historic event that the majority of the world's top 20 players were among the 305 women that represented their country during the year. The launch of fedcup.com in January 2003 has brought a new generation of fans to the competition. Live scoring, detailed match reports and photographs from all ties keep worldwide fans up-to-date wherever they may be in the world.

The 2007 Fed Cup has attracted entries from 82 nations, and will consist of an eight nation World Group I and an eight nation World Group II. The competition will be played over three weeks in a home and away format. All other nations compete in Regional Qualifying events. The four losers in the first round of the World Group I are drawn against the winners of World Group II for a place in the 2008 World Group I. The first round losers from World Group II will compete against the winners from Group 1 Zonal competitions for a place in World Group II in 2008 or relegation to the Zonal competitions.

The list of players who have competed in the Fed Cup is impressive to say the least. Many of the game’s all-time greats, along with the current crop of talents, have featured in the competition throughout its history. Names such as Billie-Jean King, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis appear alongside many of today’s stars such as Venus and Serena Williams, Anastasia Myskina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo and Kim Clijsters. They are the proof, if any were needed, that Mrs Wightman, Mrs Hopman, Mrs Hare and their allies were right: women's tennis demands a truly international stage, which is what the Fed Cup continues to provide.

Tennis is a sport that is inherently individualistic, but Fed Cup, like Davis Cup, offers players the chance to play for their country within a tightly knit team. It’s a challenge that most players rise to. The ITF is proud that tennis is one of the few but growing number of sports where women play a key role – the Fed Cup provides an additional spotlight for their talents.

(Source: www.fedcup.com)

 

 

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