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China's top two miss Fed Cup tie after misunderstanding

LONDON, Apr 18 (Reuters) China's top two Li Na and Zheng Jie will miss this weekend's Fed Cup tie against holders Italy after the Chinese Tennis Association misunderstood the rules.

World number 17 Li Na and 33rd ranked Zheng Jie were left out of the squad to help other players qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to a senior CTA official.

''This is to ensure the Olympic players have played Fed Cup twice before the Games as the (rules) require,'' Gao Shenyang, deputy director of the CTA, told Reuters last month.

''The Olympics has the first priority,'' he added ahead of China's world group debut in Castellaneta Marina. ''If there are conflicts we have to sacrifice the Fed Cup.'' However, the International Tennis Federation has written to the CTA to explain that players only have to be eligible for the Fed Cup to qualify for the Olympics and do not have to play.

''We did what we could,'' an ITF spokesman said on Wednesday.

''It appeared they'd made a decision based on a misunderstanding of the rules. We advised them because we think it's important that the Fed Cup has the strongest teams possible.'' ''They sacrificed the Fed Cup for the Olympics and we said they didn't need to,'' he added. ''It's a real shame.'' The error means China have to play Fed Cup holders Italy with a weakened squad that includes Zhang Shuai and Sun Sheng-Nan, who are both outside the world's top 200.

World number 32 Peng Shuai and Olympic doubles gold medallist Sun Tiantian, ranked 90th, are also in the squad.

With Li, China's best hope of singles gold at the Olympics, and Zheng the team had been considered contenders to win the Fed Cup but Italy are now clear favourites to win the tie.

A CTA spokeswoman in Beijing said today that she was not aware of the mix-up, adding that the squad had departed for Italy earlier in the day for the April 21-22 tie.

Reuters TB VV1819

Story first published: Wednesday, April 18, 2007, 19:11 [IST]
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