Billie Jean King Cup captain Anne Keothavong discusses the upcoming qualifier against the Czech Republic, how Emma Raducanu's US Open success caught everyone by surprise, Harriet Dart cracking the Top 100 and Britain's highly-rated youngster, Sonay Kartal making strides
Thursday 14 April 2022 15:08, UK
Billie Jean King Cup captain Anne Keothavong admits "nobody expected Emma Raducanu to do what she did in New York so soon" as Britain prepare for a massive qualifier against the Czech Republic.
Raducanu will be making her singles debut in the team which also comprises Harriet Dart, Katie Swan and Sonay Kartal for the tie held outdoors on clay from 15-16 April.
Keothavong will be looking to 19-year-old Raducanu to show some of the qualities she demonstrated on the biggest stage when winning the US Open women's singles title on debut.
Raducanu's fairytale in New York is something which brings back happy memories for Keothavong, who admits she did not expect the teenager from Kent to achieve such phenomenal success at a Grand Slam so soon in her fledgling career.
"We've all known she's a great talent. She had a promising career ahead of her but I don't think anyone expected her to do what she did in New York so soon," Keothavong told Sky Sports.
"I think it caught the whole of tennis by surprise and it's something that is a fantastic story and one that we should continue to celebrate because I'm not sure we'll see anything like that happen ever again."
With 14-year-old Mimi Xu making a name for herself after winning the LTA under-18 Junior National Championships, Keothavong remains very optimistic about the future of British tennis.
She said: "What's happening on the men's side is brilliant and Emma's success on the women's side has been inspirational.
"Tennis is more popular now than ever and hopefully there will be more young kids who will be inspired by the success of top British tennis players and we'll have a greater pool of talent to choose from in the future."
The Czechs are the second most successful team in Billie Jean King Cup history, having won the title 11 times.
Despite being without a number of top-ranked players and world No 2 Barbora Krejcikova, they will still prove a formidable force on home soil with Marketa Vondrousova, Katerina Siniakov, Karolina Muchova and Tereza Martincova making up a strong team.
As well as Raducanu, Keothavong will have Britain's newest member of the Top 100 in Dart, who enjoyed a run to the last 16 at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last month.
Dart has been working alongside experienced coach Nigel Sears, who oversaw Raducanu's run to the fourth round of Wimbledon last year.
"It was great to see. She did a good job of stringing all those matches and she completed well. The conditions suited her perfectly and when she's in the right mindset she's a tough opponent for anyone out there," said the skipper.
"Once you break into the top 100, it's a huge milestone and it's been a long time coming for Harriet so I'm pleased to see her crack the top 100.
"Now she just needs to continue building. It's all about taking these opportunities and now that her ranking is higher, hopefully entry into some of the bigger events will be easier.
"She will hopefully have guaranteed main draw status at the French Open and potentially Wimbledon."
Also making Keothavong's team is Kartal, who has competed against Raducanu from the age of nine.
Having already won back-to-back ITF titles this season the 20-year-old from Brighton has climbed up to world No 370, but she will be a wild card to make her debut.
"She's improved a lot. She played a lot of the UK Pro-League tournaments last year which allowed her to travel and compete more and she's been able to grow in confidence. She has made a huge improvement and she's a talented young player," Keothavong said.
"I believe she is a lot better than where her current ranking lies. If she continues to work hard and do what she's doing with her team, I see no reason that ranking can't accelerate up even higher, sooner."
The winners of the Qualifiers will advance to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November (venue yet to be announced), while the losers will have to battle it out in a Play-Offs for the 2023 Qualifiers.
Don't forget to follow us on skysports.com/tennis, our Twitter account @skysportstennis & Sky Sports - on the go! Available to download now on - iPhone & iPad and Android