By Ros Satar
- Johanna Konta def. Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-3
- Kurumi Nara def. Heather Watson 7-6(7) 6-4
- Japan def. GB in the doubles 3-6 6-3 6-3
MIKI, JAPAN – Great Britain’s bid to join the Fed Cup World Group came to an end once more after losing the crucial deciding fifth rubber.
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Johanna Konta def. Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-3
British No. 1 Johanna Konta started the day off putting GB in the lead with a solid performance over the reigning Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka. In a bout that was always going to play to both of their strengths, Konta made the most of the slick surface breaking Osaka twice in succession at the business end of the set.
It took just a single break in the second and a couple of match points to set GB up for a lead.
Kurumi Nara def. Heather Watson 7-6(7) 6-4
It was a far nervier battle between the No. 2s on the roster. Both Heather Watson and Kurumi Nara have not had the best seasons thus far, with Watson’s form having tailed off pretty badly after what looked like a promising start to the year in Hobart, while Nara had yet to score a main draw win this season.
In a war of attrition, the pair traded six breaks of serve before a tense tie-break with Watson having three set points, before the tide turned Nara’s way, clinching a first set lead.
The second set saw the Japanese player jump out to a 3-1 lead with an early break of Watson’s serve but saw some good fight back in her game as she broke back to get things on serve. Watson seemed to be struggling on and off with getting on top of the ball, and Nara took advantage of that to break for a 5-3 lead. Watson snapped back to stay in contention, but was broken for the match.
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Doubles decider heartbreak
With the Japanese sticking to their team selection of Miyu Kato and Makoto Ninomiya, Anne Keothavong had to weigh up whether to play Anna Smith and Fed Cup debutante Gabriella Taylor, play Smith with one of the more established players, or go with Konta and Watson.
In the end the decision to go with Konta and Watson looked to be the right one. They have played as a doubles team before at Fed Cup and most recently teamed up in Miami this year.
Despite losing their serve in the first game, the pair broke the Japanese twice to build up a 4-2 lead and took the first set comfortably. However, their fall from grace was sharp as the hosts fought back and the pair found themselves 5-0 down. They did well to get themselves back on the board, reclaim one of the breaks and deflected a set point before the Japanese levelled the rubber.
The deciding set was a tight affair with the Brits defending four break points, but lost their last two games to see their dreams of making the World Group for the first time since 1993 recede, once more.
Last year, they lost to Romania in the fourth rubber and regained a little pride as they won the final doubles rubber. This time it was all riding on the doubles, and sadly they came up shirt.
Keothavong: ‘If you keep knocking on the door, it will eventually open’
Konta may come away from this with a little bit of renewed confidence after what has been a struggle since the start of the season, but Watson is still very much lacking in confidence. This was one of their best chances to break the World Group, and they might feel this was definitely the one that got away.
Keothavong said: “Right now we are gutted about the result. One day our opportunity will come. If you keep knocking on the door, it will eventually open. It wasn’t to be this year but who is to say, it won’t be next year?
“I said all along it was going to be who was going to be who produced the better tennis on the day would win. That was Japan today and I congratulate them on their victory. The Japanese players were definitely able to rise to the occasion with the home support. I dearly hope our team get that opportunity.
“I’m proud of the effort both Jo and Heather put in today in singles and doubles and despite the short turn-around time (30 mins following Watson’s singles) I have no doubts that was the right decision for them to play the doubles.”
Konta concurred, as this was the closest of their past attempts to gain access to the World’s elite.
[Quotes via LTA Press release]
“We have to recognise the effort we have put in the last two years getting out of the zone. People underestimate the task it is to get out of that Euro Africa Zone group. Some of the best nations are in that group when you look at the depth of the other zonal groups around the world. I’m very proud of the fact we keep putting ourselves in this position.”
Watson added: “We left everything we had out there. As Jo said, one of these days, things will eventually go our way.”
Britain will next compete in the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Group I in February 2019.
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