After a disappointing Australian Open for Britain’s female players, attention will start to turn towards February’s Fed Cup round of matches. Once again, Britain will be vying to leave the Europe/Africa Zone and will travel to Tallinn to kickstart their 2018 campaign.
Monday’s draw has received very little coverage in the UK, but in case you weren’t aware, Anne Keothavong’s team will face Estonia and Portugal. To win promotion to the World Group II, Britain will have to top their group, beat one of the other three group winners in a play-off and then face a team from the current World Group II in a winner-takes-all decider.
How tough is Britain’s draw?
Estonia, who have both Anett Kontaveit and Kaia Kanepi amongst their ranks, will be cheered on by a home crowd as the event takes place in Tallinn. Both Kanepi and Kontaveit progressed to the third round of this year’s Australian Open, with the latter reaching the second week, and have both beaten Heather Watson comfortably in Australia this year.
Kanepi, who has been as high as number 15 in the rankings, reached last year’s US Open Quarter Finals after coming through qualifying. The left hander has also beaten the likes of Daria Kasatkina and Lesia Tsurenko in Brisbane, as well as Dominika Cibulkova and Monica Puig in Melbourne this year. Her ranking isn’t as high as her ability, that’s for sure, and her return to Estonia’s Fed Cup team will be welcomed by the home crowd.
22 year-old Anett Kontaveit will also be a tricky opponent. Eliminating Jelena Ostapenko at the Australian Open is no mean feat and she has shown her exciting potential in Melbourne this week. It’s worth noting, however, that before this week’s Australian Open, she had struggled for form, picking up just two wins in nine matches. The same could be said about British number one Jo Konta, who has picked up just four wins since reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals.
Will Great Britain qualify?
The form books are usually thrown out in the Fed Cup week. Last year, it was Heather Watson who led Britain to the World Group II play-offs, defeating Donna Vekic after Jo Konta’s defeat to Ana Konjuh. Watson has made a decent start to the season, despite an early exit in Melbourne, but will need to be at her best against either Kanepi or Kontaveit. She is usually in inspired form at the Fed Cup, winning 77% of her singles matches in the Europe/Africa stage, and will need to find this form in February.
Britain’s other opponents, Portugal, pose less of a threat. Their team consists of no top 500 players, with Ines Murta, Maria Joao Koehler, Francisca Jorge and Maria Ines Fonte flying the flag. This could pose a fantastic opportunity for Katie Boulter to make her Fed Cup debut, giving a rest to either Watson or Konta.
In Anne Keothavong, Great Britain has a fantastic captain and last year’s experience in Romania will likely bring the ladies together as a team. The key could be in the doubles and whether Britain decide to play Konta and Watson, or doubles specialist Anna Smith.
Getting through the group is just one stage of this nightmare Fed Cup scenario. Britain will have to face another group winner to make the World Group II play-offs, with teams such as Latvia, Croatia and Turkey all fielding strong teams. In a format that just doesn’t make sense, Britain will certainly have to be at their best to reach that play-off.
Johanna Konta 1-0 Anett Kontaveit
6-3 3-6 6-4/2016/Acapulco/Hard
Johanna Konta 0-1 Kaia Kanepi
Heather Watson 2-2 Anett Kontaveit
6-1 6-1/2014/Roland Garros/Clay
Heather Watson 0-2 Kaia Kanepi
1-6 3-6/2011/Roland Garros/Clay