HYOGO, JAPAN: Japan's No. 1 Ayumi Morita received a pleasant surprise on Friday when she was presented with the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Heart Award by ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti.
Morita was honored for her role in Japan's 3-0 victory over Uzbekistan in February, which put them into the World Group II play-off against Argentina that began yesterday.
Ricci Bitti gave Morita a check for $1,000 along with a silver bracelet from Baccarat for earning the honour at Friday's draw ceremony.
"I'm very happy to receive this award because not many people can get it," said the Gunma native.
Morita decided to donate the award money to the Japanese Red Cross, which is at the forefront of the ongoing relief efforts following the March 11 disaster.
In an unfortunate coincidence, the day of the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region was also Morita's 21st birthday.
"I was surprised to get the Heart Award," said the world No. 47. "I want to keep trying harder and improving so Japan can challenge more in the Fed Cup."
Morita admitted that she really like the bracelet she received.
"It has two hearts - one pink, one silver," she said with a big smile following her straight sets victory over Argentina's Mailen Auroux on the first day of the World Group II play-off against Argentina. "It's really nice."
With former Japanese No. 1 Ai Sugiyama now retired, and Kimiko Date-Krumm no longer on the Fed Cup squad, Morita is now the unquestioned team leader.
"I've had to step up and take a new role," she noted. "I've grown a lot in the last three years since I first began playing Fed Cup. I'm more mature now. I have to set the example for the younger players."