Kuala Lumpur will play host to the 2010 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Asia/Oceania Zonal qualifying, scheduled to commence beginning the week of February 1. Hong Kong's quartet of Zhang Ling, Yang Zijun, Lam Po Kuen, and Wu Ho Ching will battle India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Syria for promotion to Group I in 2011.
Venant Shum will once again assume the Hong Kong Fed Cup team captaincy, a position he has held since 2007.
The eight teams will be split into two pools of four, and then winner of each pool shall playoff for promotion. No teams are expected to get relegated, since an Asia/Oceania Group III does not exist as yet.
According to the latest Fed Cup Nations Rankings, India (43) and Hong Kong (44) are the highest ranked teams in Group II this year and therefore are expected to be placed in different pools for the round robins.
Although India is seemingly hands down the strongest team on paper with Sania Mirza (WTA 57) leading the way, the last time Hong Kong met India in the Fed Cup was a hugely nervy affair that could easily have gone either way.
In 2008, both Hong Kong and India finished bottom of their respective pools in Group I and had to face-off in a do-or-die to avoid the drop. During that campaign in Thailand, Sania Mirza was with the Indian team the entire week but did not take part in any rubbers until the final, decisive doubles against Hong Kong when the overall score stood precariously at 1-1 and with all to play for.
Aided by one or two rookie mishaps from Hong Kong and several inconceivably fortuitous volley mishits that turned out to be unplayable from Sania Mirza and Sunitha Rao, the Indians, who were far superior in ranking and experience, barely scraped by Zhang Ling and Yang Zijun with a tiebreak, 7-6(6), in the first set before they finally settled down to pull away in the second, 6-2.
The 2-1 defeat relegated Hong Kong to Asia/Oceania Zone Group II in 2009.
However, one potentially tricky opponent that could wreak havoc in Kuala Lumpur next month is Kyrgyzstan.
The reason Kyrgyzstan is without a Fed Cup Nations Ranking owes to the fact that it competed in the Fed Cup for the first and only time in 2003, when it lost all three of its ties in Group II to Pacific Oceania, India, and Philippines.
Kyrgyzstan became a part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1936 and did not achieve independence until 1991.
At present, Kyrgyzstan's number one player, Ksenia Palkina (WTA 208), is the second highest ranked player in Group II behind only Sania Mirza.
At age 20, she has won three singles and 10 doubles titles on the ITF Women's Circuit thus far. She has also qualified for a number of US$220,000 WTA Tour level events such as Bastard in 2009 and Tashkent from 2007-2008. In 2007, she reached the quarterfinals in Tashkent before going down against top seed Viktoria Azarenka.
Yet a closer examination of her recent results revealed that she had not won a match since July 2009, which translates to being ousted in the first round in her past 11 straight tournaments, and counting. Surely, such an extended barren run is not indicative of an "in-form" player.
At the US$220,000 Guangzhou International Women's Open last September, Zhang Ling beat Ksenia Palkina, the top seed in the qualies, 7-5, 6-2, en route to reaching the maindraw of a WTA Tour level event for the first time.
As a junior, the Kyrgyzstan native reached a high of No. 41 and in 2005 she was a member of both the International 16 & Under Touring Team to Europe and the International Touring Team to North America.
Last year, Hong Kong just missed out on Group I promotion when the team lost to Kazakhstan 3-0 in a winner-takes-all final round robin showdown between two undefeated teams.
However, Kazakhstan was spearheaded by two players ranked in the WTA Top-100 at the time, Galina Voskoboeva and Yaroslava Shvedova, and the opponents were always the favourites going in.
Lam Po Kuen was not available in 2009 but returns for this Fed Cup campaign, her 8th overall since making her debut back in 1999. In this particular statistical category, she now only trails Tong Ka Po's all-time record of having played 9 years.
In terms of number of ties played, Lam Po Kuen (22) has moved past Paulette Moreno (20) into 2nd place and once again trails perennial all-time record leader Tong Ka Po (32). Moreover, Lam Po Kuen (10-20) is only one of four Hong Kong players to have registered 10 or more total wins in their Fed Cup careers.
The other three are of course Tong Ka Po (23-20), Paulette Moreno (18-17), and Patricia Hy (13-12). Zhang Ling (9-10) is currently tied with Willy Chan (9-19) with nine total wins in fifth place, but she should, in all likelihood, venture on to take sole fourth place once the dust have settled in a few weeks' time.
Meanwhile, a player who will surely make her presence felt in Kuala Lumpur will be former WTA No.4 Kimiko Date, who is set to make her first Fed Cup appearance in 14 years since she led Japan to victory over Steffi Graf's Germany in Nagoya to reach the World Group semifinals.
During Japan's finest hour in the Fed Cup, Kimiko Date defeated Anke Huber, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, and then Steffi Graf, 7-6(7), 3-6, 12-10, before Ai Sugiyama and Kyoko Nagatsuka cemented the famed victory in the decisive doubles.
Interestingly, Kimiko Date is partnering another 39-year-old – Indonesia's Yauk Basuki – for the Australian Open women's doubles where they are scheduled to face No. 10 seeds Sania Mirza and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain in the first round on Thursday.
With Ai Sugiyama retired, Kimiko Date, at No. 61 this week, is currently the highest ranked Japanese player on the WTA Tour. Twenty year-old Ayumi Morita (WTA 91), who beat Venise Chan in the final of the 2006 Asian Closed Junior Tennis Championships, is the only other player from Japan with a top-100 ranking at present.
The other most interesting participant in Asia/Oceania Zone this year has got to be Sesil Karatantcheva (WTA 132), once a budding sensation from Bulgaria who beat Venus Williams at Roland Garros in 2005 to reach the quarterfinals just 12 months after she had captured the French Open junior title.
In January 2006, however, she was suspended for two years for testing positive for steroids (nandrolone) and did not play a pro circuit tournament until January 2008. She was once ranked as high as No. 35 on the WTA Tour.
In fact, Karatantcheva was somewhat of a teen phenom, winning both the European and Orange Bowl G12U title in 2002. Nick Bolletieri then offered her a three-week scholarship to train at his academy after watching her play at the Eddie Herr in 2003. The following year, she won the French Open junior title.
Sesil Karatantcheva is now, apparently, eligible to represent Kazakhstan.
Check out the Fed Cup Magazine, which is published after each round of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and produced/written by the ITF Communications Department.
Did You Know…
Chinese Taipei's Wang Shi-Ting (33-12) has the most singles wins among Asian players and she sits at No. 11 on the all-time list behind perennial leaders Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (50-22) and Conchita Martinez (47-18) of Spain?
In terms of total wins, Wynne Prakusya (61-21) is sixth all-time, Yayuk Basuki (58-28) eighth, while Chris Evert (57-4) is ninth and Billie Jean King eleventh (52-4)?
For more on Fed Cup records, check out its latest official Media Guide (www.fedcup.com).
Fed Cup by BNP Paribas 2010
Asia/Oceania Zone Group II
National Tennis Centre, Kuala Lumpur (Outdoor Hardcourts)
Week Commencing February 1, 2010
Round-robins (8 nations in two pools)
Nations (Brackets denote latest Fed Cup Nations Rankings):
Hong Kong (44), India (43), Iran (87), Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Philippines (74), Singapore (61), and Syria (93)
Player Nominations (8 Jan 2010)
Date to make Fed Cup return (www.fedcup.com, 22 Dec 2009)
Sesil Karatantcheva Suspended for 2 Years for Doping Offence (WTA, 11 Jan 2006)
CIA: The World Fact Book - Kyrgyzstan