By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
Thailand must win a playoff against Indonesia in Astana on Saturday to avoid sinking to their lowest status in women’s team tennis for 43 years.
The Kingdom’s team, without No 1 Luksika Kumkhum who opted to skip the Asia/Oceania tie to prepare for the American hardcourt season, finished bottom in their three-team Pool A following two straight defeats to Kazakhstan and India.
Thailand will take on Pool B third-placed finisher Indonesia in a battle to remain in group I next year and avoid being relegated for the first time since 1976.
History favours the Thais – they have won five of eight clashes with Indonesia since 1993, including the last three.
“It will be a tough tie as both nations take turns in winning and losing,” said national coach Akkasit Thepkasikul.
“Both teams have an equal chance to win. It’s good that our team has a day rest [Friday] as we had tough matches on Thursday,” said Akkasit, who rated Thailand’s chance to win the tie at 50-50 per cent.
“We have to admit that Indonesia has its strongest team while we don’t. Their No 2 player [Aldila Sutjiadi] is quite dangerous as she won the Asian Games mixed doubles last year.”
The 630th-ranked Sutjiadi and mixed doubles partner Christopher Rungkat edged out Thailand’s Sonchat Ratiwatana and Luksika Kumkhum in the gold medal match in Jakarta last year.
“To win the tie, we need to finish them off in the singles rubbers. If we have to play in the doubles, it will be even tougher for us,” Akkasit warned.
The coach does, however, have full faith in his singles players, Peangtarn Plipuech and Nudnida Luangnam, as both fought hard in the loss to India.
“Nudnida is playing at the top of her game while Peangtarn came up with some impressive form,” he added. “They did a good job against India in the decisive doubles but only a few points made the difference. They’ll have to maintain that level to beat Indonesia.”
The Thai women went into the India tie needing to salvage national pride after being demolished 3-0 by the Kazakhstan hosts. They got off to a great start when Nudnida upset the 211st-ranked Thandi Karman Kaur before India levelled when the 165th-ranked Anika Raina beat Peangtarn.
In the decisive doubles, Nudnida and Peangtarn served for the match against Kaur and Raina at 5-4 but the Indian pair broke back and went on to win 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 7-5 in an exhausting showdown that lasted nearly three hours.