India face an uphill battle in their Billie Jean King Cup tennis tournament World Group Play-offs against the much higher-ranked Latvia but their chances have been given a slight boost due to the absence of crowd and the fact that the tie will be played on hard courts, said captain Vishal Uppal.

The tie will be played from April 16 National Tennis Centre Lielupe in Jurmala, Latvia, and Latvia will be fielding a strong team consisting of world number 47 Anstasija Sevastova, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko (ranked 53), Diana Marcinkevica (ranked 274) and Daniela Vismane (492). The hosts chose to play the match on indoor hard courts instead of on clay courts, which is the surface that their players are more suited to play on.

“Initially when I saw that we were playing on indoor hards I was surprised. I thought that we will be playing on indoor or outdoor clay. But then again, the Latvian team have some very highly ranked players. It does kind of give us a better chance and so, thank you Latvia!” said Uppal in a virtual press conference from Jurmala on the eve of the tie.

The match will be played behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which Uppal feels will be a bigger factor in their favour than the surface.

“We are more comfortable on hard courts but more than that the fact that there will be no home support gives us a slightly better chance. This is the first time we have got to this stage and just the pressure that a home crowd can put on us won’t be there. We can be a bit more at piece knowing that there wont be a crowd of 5000 7000 people screaming at you but then it also takes the fun out of a cup tie,” said Uppal.

However, the fact remains that the tie remains a mismatch on paper. While Latvia’s singles players Sevastova and Ostapenko are ranked 47th and 53 respectively, their Indian opponents Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi are ranked 174 and 621 respectively.

Ankita said that she would prefer having a crowd when she is playing at home but it doesn’t make a difference to her otherwise.

“When you are playing at home you would like to have a crowd otherwise doesn’t make a difference. For them probably they are used to playing with the crowd so it could be good for us,” she said.

Ankita faces Ostapenko in the first match of the tie on April 16 after which Karman faces Sevastova on the same day. On the second day, Sevastova plays Ankita after which Ostapenko faces Karman. The tie then ends with a doubles match between veteran Sania Mirza and Ankita against Diana Marcinkevica and Daniela Vismane.

–IANS

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