Fed Cup: Great Britain face Kazakhstan with World Group qualification on line
By Mathieu Wood
Last Updated: 19/04/19 9:39pm
While men's tennis is dominated by the start of the European clay court season in Monte-Carlo, focus back home will be at London's Copper Box for Great Britain's World Group II play-off tie against Kazakhstan.
The match represents a huge opportunity for Great Britain Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong to lead her side to the World Group level for the first time in over a quarter of a century (1993).
British No 1 Johanna Konta will spearhead the British side and be joined by Katie Boulter, Heather Watson, Harriet Dart and Katie Swan in an unchanged line-up from the Europe/Africa Zone Group I competition in Bath.
World No 38 Yulia Putintseva, who will lead Kazakhstan out, is the top-ranked player in the tie. Zarina Diyas, who is now ranked 107, Anna Danilina and doubles specialist Galina Voskobeova make up the visiting squad.
Keothavong believes home advantage - for the second time in 10 weeks after a 26-year wait - on the site of great memories and notable British achievements from the London 2012 Olympics will help inspire her squad to victory in a '50-50' tie.
How Great Britain and Kazakhstan line up
|Great Britain||Singles/Doubles World ranking||Singles/Doubles World ranking||Kazakhstan|
|Johanna Konta||46/111||38/387||Yulia Putintseva|
|Katie Boulter||86/45||107/263||Zarina Diyas|
|Harriet Dart||134/98||372/138||Anna Danilina|
|Katie Swan||173/620||-/58||Galina Voskobeova|
Ahead of this weekend's meeting we look at why victory would be a significant moment for the women's game in Britain…
Scheduled Order of play
|Johanna Konta||Zarina Diyas|
|Katie Boulter||Yulia Putintseva|
|Johanna Konta||Yulia Putintseva|
|Katie Boulter||Zarina Diyas|
|Deciding doubles rubber if necessary|
|Heather Watson & Harriet Dart||Anna Danilina & Galina Voskoboeva|
Perseverance finally rewarded
This is not the first time Great Britain have been in this position. Their bid to escape Zone Group competition has been somewhat torturous for British fans in recent years.
Since 2010 they have reached this pivotal stage on four occasions - being drawn away for each previous tie and subsequently suffering defeat.
Keothavong has reached these World Group II Play-Offs in both of her first two campaigns as Britain's Fed Cup captain following her succession from Judy Murray who suffered defeats against Sweden and Argentina in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
An ill-tempered tie against Romania in 2017, which ended in a 3-2 defeat, saw Konta left in tears as Ilie Nastase was suspended by the International Tennis Federation for derogatory comments made to the British No 1 and Keothavong, along with abuse directed at the umpire.
Fed Cup: Great Britain's other near misses
|2012||Sweden||1-4||E Baltacha, A Keothavong, L Robson, H Watson|
|2013||Argentina||1-3||E Baltacha, A Keothavong, J Konta, L Robson|
|2017||Romania||2-3||J Konta, J Rae, L Robson, H Watson|
|2018||Japan||2-3||J Konta, H Watson, A Smith, G Taylor|
A year on and they suffered another desperately disappointing deciding-rubber defeat in the doubles against Japan. A first ever meeting against Kazakhstan provides a great chance to join the current 16-team World Group in 2020.
Success breeds confidence
Victory at the weekend would enable the British squad to compete in next year's competition against stellar opposition and bring the women's game to a wider audience.
Konta, a two-time Grand Slam singles semi-finalist, is a household name in Britain but has slipped to world No 46 and leading the side to victory should act as a huge source of motivation and encouragement for the remainder of the season.
The 27-year-old produced hugely determined displays in victories against Slovenia, Greece, Hungary and Serbia over the four-day event in Bath.
Boulter made an impressive unbeaten Fed Cup debut but has since struggled to build on those results on tour. At world No 86, a successful weekend could provide the ideal boost ahead of taking to the clay and before the grass court season.
Illness kept Watson out of action in Bath but her experience might be called upon in the doubles, after Dart and Swan, who remain in the formative years of their careers, played together in February.
Inspiring next generation
Our long-term goal is obviously to lift that trophy and recreate what the guys were able to do in the Davis Cup. This is the start of a long journey ahead and we're all in it for the long ride.
GB Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong
Many within the game believe the sport in Britain has failed to capitalise on the success of Andy Murray, who has won three Grand Slams and was a force of nature during the memorable Davis Cup triumph in 2015 - something thought unachievable at the time.
Keothavong said earlier this week their long-term goal is to win the trophy for the first time ever. That might take a long time but the ambition is an important driving factor.
Progression to World Group II after a victory on home soil would provide the perfect chance to create excitement within the sport and inspire people to take up the game ahead of the traditional focus on the grass court campaign and Wimbledon.
There is also a hope that hosting such a pivotal tie for British tennis at a new venue for the sport will help broaden the exposure of the game to a wider audience.
The appetite for women's tennis is clearly there and progress to the top table of team could mark the start of a successful and rewarding journey for the British game.
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