By Ros Satar

  • Heather Watson v Naomi Osaka
  • Johanna Konta v Kurumi Nara
MIKI, JAPAN – The draw is set for the Fed Cup World Group II play-off between Japan and Great Britain, with Heather Watson kicking things off against Noami Osaka, followed by Johanna Konta v Kurumi Nara.

 

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Heather Watson v Naomi Osaka | Osaka leads H2H: 1-0

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It is a tough task for Heather Watson to get GB’s Fed Cup campaign underway as she faces the reigning Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka in the opener. Although Osaka has the win in their only encounter, it was when Watson was struggling with injury, and since Osaka’s Premier title winning run, her own form seemed to tail off with her loss in Charleston leaving her feeling burned out.

Neither have played since Charleston, but for Watson, Fed Cup hopefully represents a chance for her to win some much needed confidence back. In February, Watson won all three of her singles rubbers in the group stages and she could join team captain Anne Keothavong in second place for the most Fed Cup singles match-wins by a British player (Watson 20, Keothavong 21).

Although Osaka did not play in the equivalent group event in February, she is undefeated in Fed Cup appearances. She plays a solid aggressive baseline game and Watson may find that her ability to switch back and forth from defence to attack will have to be the order for the day – she will need a lot of patience to build up her shots but her agility and on court smarts will have to serve her well here.

In an LTA press release, Watson said:  “I’m expecting to go up tomorrow against a very in-form Naomi Osaka.  It will be a tough match because she hits the ball hard and these courts suit her game really well, which you would expect them to do that in Fed Cup. I feel like I’m playing really well though, I do enjoy faster surfaces too and I have been playing well in practice.

“I feel like the speed of the court suits my game because I’m good at absorbing pace and my biggest strength is movement and that combination works well on the faster surfaces. I don’t think about [playing first] because you are either first or second, compared to a regular Tour event you could be fifth on and that’s always tougher to prepare for.”

Prediction: Osaka in three sets

 

 

Johanna Konta v Kurumi Nara | Konta leads 5-2 (2-1 at WTA Tour level)

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While the head to head is in British No. 1 Johanna Konta’s favour for the second of the rubbers, Kurumi Nara actually got the better of Konta in their last encounter – a straight sets win in Istanbul, but before we get too gloomy – that was in 2014 before Konta’s steady rise up the rankings.

Both players have won four out of their last five Fed Cup appearances, and on paper Konta ought to be the favourite. In Nara, she will face someone who can strike the ball very well, and can shift about the court. Her serve can let her down and with her more defensive style of play, she may prefer to use angles to construct her points before going for a winner.

Konta’s volleying has been a bit of a weakness of late, so she will look to dominate points for a quick finish and not allow Nara to edge further and further up the court.

The quick courts should favour the Brit’s aggressive style of play, and if she can regain a little confidence here, we ought to come out of this with the tie level at the end of the day.

Prediction: Konta in two sets

 

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Fact File & Captain’s Corner – What Anne Keothavong has to say

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Great Britain is bidding to be a part of the World Group for the first time since 1993, and are currently ranked No. 16. This is their fourth World Group II Play-Off in the last seven years, falling to Sweden (2012), Argentina (2013) and Romania (2017) at the same stage.

Keothavong said: “All the girls have prepared the best they can and I don’t think we have left any stone unturned.  The time difference of eight hours is a challenge, however tennis players spend their lives travelling around the world so they are used to adapting and preparing their bodies to be match ready.

“Every practice has gotten better, it’s a fast indoor court and it does suit our team too.  Regarding our team’s strengths, Jo is a very offensive player who is capable of beating anyone on any given day and Heather is someone who rises to the challenge of playing Fed Cup.”

(Quotes via LTA Press Release)

 

PLAYER Fed Cup Ties W-L (S) W-L (D)
Johanna Konta 19th tie 10-7 2-2
Heather Watson 31st tie 20-7 8-2
Anna Smith 8th tie 6-1
Gabriella Taylor Debut

51st player to represent GB in Fed Cup since its inception in 1963

   

 

How to watch/follow GB in the Fed Cup World Group II Play-Off

The World Group II Play-Off is set to be broadcast live on TV by BT Sport, with radio coverage provided by BBC 5 Live and online coverage via BBC live events platform.  Play at the two-day event gets underway on Saturday 21 April 13:00 local time (5am BST) and Sunday 22 April 12:00 local time (4am BST).

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