By Abigail Johnson
- Anne Keothavong aims to steer Great Britain into World Group II for the first time in 24 years
- Johanna Konta is joined in the Fed Cup squad by Heather Watson, Laura Robson and Jocelyn Rae
- World no. 35 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia is just one of the threats standing in their way
TALLIN, ESTONIA – Great Britain’s Fed Cup team has been trying to get out of the Europe/Africa Zone Group I for the last 24 years. With former player Anne Keothavong replacing Judy Murray as captain, will this finally be their year?
The Fed Cup (previously known as the Federation Cup) is split into three events. The World Group is comprised of the eight best teams in the world, with the next best eight forming the World Group II. Below this tier are the three Zone Groups. Here, the remaining countries are divided into groups depending upon their region. Great Britain are in the largest current Zone group: Europe/Africa. The remaining two are named Americas and Asia/Oceania.
Although GB’s group is comprised of 43 of the 107 countries in this season’s Fed Cup, they will not have to face every team. Each of the zone groups is divided into groups I and II, with Europe/Africa also containing a group III. These Zone Groups are then split into round robin pools, and ties are played at a single location over a week-long period.
Britain, in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I, have been drawn into Pool C along with Turkey, Latvia and Portugal. Against each of these three teams they will contest a day-long tie, consisting of two singles matches and a doubles rubber.
The winner of Pool C will play the winner of Pool B to decide which team advances to the World Group II play-offs, with the winner of Pools A and D also squaring off. The two losing teams will duel to see who avoids relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group II.
Anne Keothavong, captain – Now a mother and a tennis commentator, Keothavong retired from the sport after Wimbledon 2013. When she competed in the Fed Cup that year, Keothavong played alongside present team members Johanna Konta, Laura Robson and Heather Watson. The since deceased Elena Baltacha, who lost her battle with liver cancer in May 2014 at the age of 30, rounded out their team, and 33-year-old Keothavong – per the Daily Mail – says she took this role in honour of her late friend.
Johanna Konta, World No. 10 – A few years ago, Robson and Watson headlined the rising stars of British tennis. Nevertheless, a brilliant change in Konta’s mentality that began in mid 2015 is still taking her places. The 25-year-old enters Britain’s Fed Cup tie off a quarter-final showing at the Australian Open, and will be looking to make up for skipping the event with illness last season. Interestingly, she bears the worst Fed Cup record on the team, with three singles wins compared to five losses, and also a losing doubles record.
Heather Watson, World No. 72 – A three-time WTA champion, feisty 24-year-old Watson has had plenty of experience in the Europe/Africa Zone Group. The Guernsey-born talent holds a 20-7 win/loss record in the Fed Cup, although some results at key stages suggest the pressure is hard for her to take. All the same, her team will be grateful for her presence as Watson competes at the tournament for the first time since winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles crown last season.
Laura Robson, World No. 222 – An insanely talented lefty who won junior Wimbledon as a 14-year-old, former World No. 27 Robson has struggled to rediscover her old form since returning from a lengthy wrist injury in 2015. As she currently struggles to notch match wins at ITF level events, some will be questioning Keothavong’s selection of the 23-year-old over someone like the higher-ranked Tara Moore. But Robson has played for her country on many occasions – winning a mixed doubles silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics alongside Andy Murray. If she finds her range, she will be dangerous in Estonia. She is five wins to one loss in Fed Cup doubles matches.
Jocelyn Rae, World No. 97 (doubles) – Doubles specialist Rae, who usually teams up with fellow Brit Anna Smith, has reached multiple WTA finals. The 25-year-old is playing in her 10th tie for this side, and has compiled a respectable 6-3 win/loss record at the tournament thus far. All those matches have come on hard-courts – which stands her in good stead for the next few days.
World No. 86 Cagla Buyukakcay is a WTA title winner and the backbone of her Fed Cup team – bringing a 22-12 singles record into the competition. The 27-year-old will be playing on her favourite surface in Tallin, and while she was beaten handily by Konta in Shenzhen last month, she took Watson the distance in their only previous meeting at the ITF level in 2010.
Michelle Larcher De Brito, a former prodigy, made waves when she upset Maria Sharapova in the second round of Wimbledon 2013. The 24-year-old, now ranked world no. 246, has never really lived up to expectations, but to overlook Portugal’s leading player would be a mistake. With a positive singles record at the Fed Cup since her 2009 debut, 5’5” Larcher De Brito has 28 ties-worth of experience under her belt.
Britain’s toughest competition – powerful teenager Jelena Ostapenko – lurks in this team. The 19-year-old may have lost to Watson as a 16-year-old at this event, but has a total win/loss record of 16-11 at the event. She now has a career-high singles ranking of world no. 33, just two spots greater than her current position of no. 35. Her big serve and firepower will cause Great Britain some trouble – although the pressure of being Latvia’s one main hope will be as difficult to handle as ever.
Great Britain are surely the favourites not just to make the World Group II play-offs, but to rise into the World Group II itself. Nevertheless, this has been the case in previous years, and the team has not delivered. Will Keothavong’s leadership, and Konta’s change in direction, make the difference?
Great Britain begin their campaign on Wednesday 8th February, 2017.
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