For the first time since 1993 Great Britain have found themselves in the World Group II play offs in the Fed Cup. Unlike the men who have now been in the equivalent Davis Cup World Group for several years, the woman have failed in previous attempts to get into the play off let alone the World Group.
We don’t need to discuss the journey the men had upto winning the whole thing in 2015, as this has been written about plenty of times. Yes, the men had the top player in the world (or number 2 as he was at the time) to help them, but prior to Andy Murray re-joining, the lower ranked Brits fought their way to the World Group playoffs.
The ladies have had a harder time, having no players in the top 20 (until recently) the Brits have faced years in the Europe/Africa zone group. Consistently topping their group, they would then have to play the winners of the other group, to decide who made the World Group II playoffs. Despite numerous attempts, they have fallen at this stage. Judy Murray built team spirit amongst the ladies, and the foundation to progress.
The new captain Anne Keothavong continued where Murray left off. Selecting the players they felt were the best able to get through. This year there was a new addition. Last year, Murray’s last before she resigned to concentrate on other things, they wanted to use the British number one Johanna Konta. Unfortunately illness forced her to be unavailable. This year Konta was fine and was selected, alongside Heather Watson, Laura Robson and doubles specialist Jocelyn Rae.
As the format of the lower divisions is different to the World Group, here is a quick run down of how it works. The tie’s consist of only three rubbers. Both singles matches and a doubles. You only need to win two rubbers to win the tie. You play a round robin over three days in one location and the winner of your group will play the winner of the other group for the chance to play the next stage – ie the World Group playoffs. Once you get to the playoff stage, then the format becomes more familiar to those who are regular Davis Cup or World Group Fed Cup aficionados. Being the best of five rubbers, but over two days not three (like Davis Cup) with four singles matches – so like Davis Cup you get reverse singles, and the one doubles match. Win three rubbers and you progress.
This also becomes something new this British team will have not experienced before. The ties are on a home and away basis. The Brits have been drawn away from home, and will play Romania. The winners will go into (or remain in) the World group, with the losers going into (or back into) the Europe/Africa Zone.
Romania at home will not be easy for the Brits. They could have had worse opponents though, Italy would have been very tricky. If Simona Halep is fit, selected and plays, the tie is certainly in the balance. Halep is Romania’s top ranked player, and number four in the world. Halep is tricky and will be very difficult for the Brits. Irina-Camelia Begu is the next highest ranked, at number 30 in the world. With Konta at number 11 and Watson currently at 73 it is going to be very tough to make the World Group. The Romanians have a strong team they can select from, as their third ranked singles player is Monica Niculescu at 43, followed by Sorana Cirstea at 66. On paper, the Brits should win at least one of the singles matches, this should be Konta v whoever is the second nominated player for Romania.
Halep leads the Head to Head against Watson 3-0, whilst Konta leads the Head to Head against the Romanian 1-0. So, if it went with rankings and the current head to heads, then GB will win two singles rubbers with Konta.
Depending on who is the second singles player for Romania would depend on the outcome. as Watson has a losing head to head against Begu, is level with Niculescu and actually leads Cirstea. It is very hard to call the winner of this tie in April. If Watson can defeat one of the Romanians then I see Britain moving into the World Group for the first time in many years.
As a Brit, I can see this happening, and hope and believe they will take the win. As a neutral (don’t make me, I don’t want to be ) you’d have to pick Romania for the win on current standings. The surface will make a difference too, and the Romanians have selected clay, not usually a great surface for Brits.