Last year, it was a hostile atmosphere in Romania; this year, it was a passionate Japanese venue that saw Great Britain fail to make Fed Cup World Group.
A Great Opportunity to make World Group goes Begging for Britain
On paper, with Johanna Konta cancelling out the threat of in-form Naomi Osaka and Heather Watson outranking Kurumi Nara by 23 places, this looked a great opportunity for Britain to rub shoulders with the best in the World Group next year. A mouthwatering opportunity to take on the likes of last year’s winners (USA) and arguably this year’s favourite Czech Republic. Alas, a tight 3-2 scoreline in Japan’s favour put paid to those ambitions for yet another year.
Konta Shows Improved Form, but Heather Watson Struggles
In the singles, it was a tale of the contrasting confidence of Britain’s protagonists. Johanna Konta showed signs of vast improvement under her new coach, Michael Joyce. She comfortably beat Naomi Osaka on day one, putting Britain in a great position. In this match Konta showed tremendous nerve to win 3/3 break points. Unforced errors in big moments–something that has seen a needed improvement–seem confined to history, for now. Konta followed this up with a commanding straight sets win over Kurumi Nara.
Unfortunately, the World #77 Heather Watson’s fortunes were the exact opposite. Confidence is evidently lacking and was prevalent in the tame defeats to the aforementioned Japanese adversaries.
Down to the Doubles Wire for Great Britain
At 2-2 in rubbers the doubles became key. A selection headache faced captain Anne Keothavong. The originally named doubles pairing was the rising #177 ranked 20-year-old Gabriella Taylor and Anna Smith. They were replaced by the experience of Jo Konta and Heather Watson, who last played together reaching the 2nd round in Miami.
Switching to experience and match sharpness of a player utilised in the singles is something that worked well for the USA in the final against Belarus last year. Then, Coco Vandeweghe stepped in for the key doubles rubber to bring home the title. That said, Heather Watson isn’t Coco Vandeweghe, and in the doubles arena neither is Konta. Arguably, when fit, Britain’s strongest doubles pairing is Laura Robson and Joss Rae. Robson recently won a doubles title in Japan on the ITF circuit, partnering with Fanny Stollar. However, she has been injured recently and confined to the practice court. Also, she is woefully out of form. Oh, how Britain misses an in-form Robson.
Always next year
In summary, it was a valiant effort from the Brits and keeps up hope for the future. Keothavong stands by her decision to go with experience in the doubles. At the end of the day, it was a 50/50 call. However, perhaps the real decision that needs re-visiting is the one not to replace Heather Watson with the rising star, in-form Gabriella Taylor. Taylor hasn’t played singles since 1st Arpil 2018, but has that winning feeling on the ITF circuit. Winning in Midura (Australia) in March, most recently. The decision not to play Taylor will become increasingly more difficult.
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