Hong Kong girls aiming for icing on the cake
The Hong Kong girls' under-16 team will need to be at their best if they are to achieve their goal of reaching the quarter-finals of the ITF (International Tennis Federation) Junior Federation Cup which starts in Barcelona, Spain, today.
Venise Chan Wing-yau, 16, Zhang Ling, 16, and Jessica Yang Zi-jun, 15, will come up against superstars of the future at the September 27-October 2 championships.
For the SAR girls, achieving a top-eight finish would be the icing on the cake. They are already the first local team to qualify for the World Finals since the competition was launched in 1985.
Hong Kong join Australia and China as the three representatives from the Asia/Oceania region. They will be facing formidable opponents in the premier team event for girls aged 16 and under.
France are among the favourites to lift the cup. Their number one, Alize Cornet, has a world ranking of 304 and reached the second round of the French Open in May.
Poland are also very strong and are spearheaded by the Radwanska sisters, Agnieszka and Ursula, number 3 and 61 in the ITF junior rankings.
Some of the world's top players, including Jennifer Capriati (1989), Lindsay Davenport (1991), Amelie Mauresmo (1995), Elena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina (1997), and Daniela Hantuchova (1998), have used the competition as a platform for further success.
In the latest ITF rankings, Hong Kong's Ling is at 55, Venise is 66, and Jessica is 175.
'I'm confident that the girls are just as good as anybody out there,' said head coach Benny Lin Bing-chao. 'Our only worry is the clay court because the girls are not really familiar with it.'
Lin said hosts Spain, the United States and South American countries, such as last year's champions Argentina, would pose a big threat.
The finals will be played on a round-robin basis, followed by a knockout stage to determine positions from one to 16. All matches are crucial, as the team who finish last in the competition will deprive their region a place in the 2006 finals.
The draw for the first-round group stage was made yesterday evening.