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
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
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 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
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 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.