It is finally here. Great Britain is hosting its first Fed Cup action since May 1993 when Clare Wood led to pool stage victories over Russia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Lithuania and a play-off win over Turkey.
These triumphs on home soil secured Britain’s place in the World Group, and it is a feat subsequent teams have been unable to match. To repeat the feat at the University of Bath this year, Britain will have to beat the following teams in Pool A:
- Slovenia (Wed 6th Feb, 4.30pm on BT Sport and British Tennis Facebook page): Dalila Jakupovic (World No. 86), Kaja Juvan (168), Nina Potocnik (384), Nika Radisic
- Hungary (Thurs 7th Feb, 4.30pm on BT Sport and British Tennis Facebook page): Anna Bondar (224), Reka-Luca Joni, Dalma Galfi (311), Adrienn Nagy
- Greece (Fri 8th Feb, 4.30pm on BT Sport and British Tennis Facebook page): Maria Sakkari (38), Valentini Grammatikopoulou (171), Despina Papamichail (460), Anna Arkadianou
If Britain finish top of Pool A, they will then face the winners of Pool B to decide who goes on to a World Group play-off in April. The most likely opponents at that stage are Croatia, who can call on Donna Vekic (who has just reached a career-high ranking of 25) and Ana Konjuh, who reached the quarter-final of the US Open in 2016.
That potential match-up will almost certainly be Britain’s most difficult test of the week, and these are the six women seeking to get to that stage and change the fortunes of the nation:
Anne Keothavong – CaptainEmbed from Getty Images
As one of Britain’s most experienced Fed Cup players, Keothavong was an ideal choice to take over from Judy Murray as Captain in 2016.
She seems popular with the players, and has overseen a period of good results, including wins over Latvia and Croatia.
Under Keothavong, Britain were unlucky not to progress to the World Group from difficult away ties in the past two years.
In 2017, they lost a bad-tempered tie 3-2 to Romania and, in 2018, they lost an agonisingly close encounter 3-2 to Japan.
Johanna Konta – World No.39Embed from Getty Images
After spending many years as an unheralded player who was largely unknown in Britain, Konta shot to prominence with an extraordinary run of results in 2015 and 2016, and then became a household name when she stormed to the Wimbledon semi-final in 2017.
It is a truly remarkable rise, and it is no coincidence that her arrival in the upper echelons of world tennis has led to an upturn in fortunes for the Fed Cup team.
Since the beginning of 2017, Konta has won seven of her nine singles matches and Britain have won six of those seven ties. However, she may need to win all of her next five singles matches if Britain is to reach the World Group.
Although she is undoubtedly Britain’s best singles player, it is a different story in doubles. After she brilliant beat Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-3 earlier in the tie, Konta struggled in the decisive doubles rubber and she and Heather Watson eventually lost it in three sets.
Katie Boulter – World No.83Embed from Getty Images
The 22-year-old from Leicester is Britain’s most-improved player. Since March 2018, she has risen from 208 to 83 in the rankings, and she is starting to make her presence felt in the world of tennis.
Boulter reached her first WTA quarter-final in Nottingham last June, and followed it up with her first win at Wimbledon when she beat Veronica Cepede Royg.
This is set to be the biggest week of her Fed Cup career, as she is expected to take over from Heather Watson as Britain’s No.2 singles player. It is vital that she copes with the extra pressure.
Heather Watson – World No.110Embed from Getty Images
It has been a difficult year for Watson, who has really struggled for form and has consequently slipped from 68 to 110 in the rankings.
Given this, it would be a surprise to see her line up for any Singles rubbers this week, although she has plenty of experience to draw on if she is called upon as she has played 27 Fed Cup matches in her career already.
While her singles performances have slumped, Watson has continued to enjoy success in the doubles arena and, if any of the ties come down to a decisive doubles rubber this week, she is the player Britain will look to for leadership – whoever plays alongside her.
Katie Swan – World No.174Embed from Getty Images
In February 2016, Swan became the youngest player ever to represent Britain in the Fed Cup when she lined up against South Africa aged 16 years and 317 days.
Three years later, she is a far more established figure in the squad and one of the country’s most promising young talents.
In 2018, she qualified for WTA main draw events in Nottingham, Eastbourne and Washington, and she also won her first main draw match at Wimbledon when she beat Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2 6-2.
While Swan is unlikely to play any singles matches in Bath this week, she might compete in doubles alongside either Watson or Boulter.
Harriet Dart – World No.124Embed from Getty Images
The 22-year-old from London has enjoyed a stellar rise in the last 12 months from 308 to 122 in the rankings. She also qualified for the Australian Open for the first time in her career during an excellent start to 2019.
Dart may not play at all during the week, but she is an excellent back-up option for Keothavong as she has a good all-round game, is good at doubles and is improving all the time.