In all that time, GB has missed out on reaching World Group level, often by very small margins. Indeed, they have come through the initial round-robin Pool stages in four of the last seven years, only to fall at the World Group II play-offs each time—including the last two years. Last April, they lost to Japan 3-2 despite being 2-1 up in the best-of-five-rubber tie, and despite leading by a set in the deciding doubles.
Anne Keothavong, former top-50 player and the GB captain, leads her squad against Croatia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.
The eight teams are split into two pools of four, with each nation competing in three round-robin ties—two singles and a doubles rubber—during the first three days of action. The two pool winners then compete against one another on Saturday to get a place in the play-offs in April to determine who will advance to World Group II.
This year, GB has one of the strongest line-ups among the eight nations: It is the only team to boast two top-100 players, including former top-10 Johanna Konta and No83 Katie Boulter. The squad is completed by the experienced Heather Watson, along with Harriet Dart and teenager Katie Swan.
GB’s first task is to get through their Pool A round-robin phase, where Greece looks, on paper, to be the most dangerous opposition, led by the fast-rising No38 Maria Sakkari.
Should GB make the final showdown on Saturday, they could be up against a Croatia featuring the highest-ranked player in Bath this week, No25 Donna Vekic, who reached her first Premier final in St Petersburg on Sunday having beaten No2 Petra Kvitova in the process.
· GB has never won the Fed Cup, but has been runner-up four times, in 1967, 1970, 1972 and 1981.
· GB is one of only four nations to have competed in every Fed Cup competition.
· GB has played in 15 different countries since its last home match in 1993.
· The team reached the World Group II play-offs in 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018.
· The World Group is split into two divisions of eight teams, which means the winners of April’s play-off has to earn another promotion from WGII to WG1 in 2020, for the chance to compete for the title in 2021.
· This week, GB will play all three of their round-robin ties in the afternoon sessions, Wednesday to Friday, with other ties played at 10am each day.
· The team comprises [by ranking]:
o Johanna Konta, ranked 39; has 19 Fed-Cup appearances; beat current No1 and US Open and Australian champion Naomi Osaka in straight sets in Japan in last year’s WGII play-off:
o Katie Boulter, ranked 83; has two Fed-Cup appearances [won both doubles rubbers]; rose from No199 at the start last year via a couple of ITF titles and increasing success on the main tour:
o Heather Watson, No110; is the most experienced member of the squad, having played every year since 2011, but has struggled with form and confidence over the last season:
o Harriet Dart, No122; is making Fed Cup debut.
o Katie Swan, No174; became youngest woman, age 16, to represent GB at the event in her debut in 2016 [in singles, won two, lost one].
Event A played in Zielona Gora, Poland: Hard indoor
Pool A—Russia, Poland, Denmark,
Pool B—Ukraine Estonia Bulgaria Sweden
Event B played in Bath, GB: Hard indoor
Pool A—Great Britain, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia
Pool B— Serbia Croatia Turkey Georgia
GB’s schedule: all played at 4.30pm
Wednesday 6 February: GB vs Slovenia
Thursday 7 February: GB vs Greece
Friday 8 February: GB vs Hungary
Saturday 9 February: winners from each Pool compete for place in Play-offs
Meanwhile, around the world…
Some of the biggest names in women’s tennis will take part in World Group action on Friday/Saturday, 9-10 February, including 13 top-30 players, and three former No1s.
Winners advance to semi-finals in April, with guarantee of place in the top-tier for 2020.
Czech Rep vs Romania
Venue: Ostravar, Czech; Hard indoor
Czech Republic Karolina Pliskova, Katerina Siniakova, Marketa Vondrousova, Barbora Krejcikova
Romania Simona Halep, Mihaela Buzarnescu, Irina-Camelia Begu, Ana Bogdan, Monica Niculescu
Belgium vs France
Venue: Liège, Belgium; Hard indoor
Belgium Elise Mertens, Alison Van Uytvanck, Kirsten Flipkens, Ysaline Bonaventure
France Caroline Garcia, Kristina Mladenovic, Alize Cornet, Pauline Parmentier, Fiona Ferro
Germany vs Belarus
Venue: Braunschweig, Germany; Hard indoor
Germany Andrea Petkovic, Tatjana Maria, Mona Barthel, Laura Siegemund, Anna-Lena Groenefeld
Belarus Aryna Sabalenka, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Victoria Azarenka, Vera Lapko, Lidziya Marozava
USA vs Australia
Venue: Asheville, USA; Hard indoor
USA Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin, Nicole Melichar
Australia Ashleigh Barty, Daria Gavrilova, Priscilla Hon, Kimberly Birrell, Astra Sharma
The four winning nations from World Group II and the four losing World Group I nations will play the World Group play-offs on 20-21 April. The four losing World Group II nations and the promoted nations from Zone Group I events will compete in the World Group II play-offs, also on 20-21 April.
Switzerland vs Italy
Venue: Biel, Switz; Hard indoor
Switzerland Belinda Bencic, Stefanie Voegele, Viktorija Golubic, Timea Bacsinszky, Jil Teichmann
Italy Camila Giorgi, Sara Errani, Martina Trevisan, Jasmine Paolini, Deborah Chiesa
Latvia vs Slovakia
Venue: Riga, Latvia; Hard indoor
Latvia Anastasija Sevastova, Jelena Ostapenko, Diana Marcinkevica, Daniela Vismane, Patricija Spaka
Slovakia Dominika Cibulkova, Viktoria Kuzmova, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Magdalena Rybarikova, Rebecca Sramkova
Japan vs Spain
Venue: Kita-kyushu, Japan; Hard indoor
Japan Nao Hibino, Misaki Doi, Kurumi Nara, Miyu Kato, Makoto Ninomiya
Spain Sara Sorribes Tormo, Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, Georgina Garcia-Perez, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez
Netherlands vs Canada
Venue: s-Hertogenbosch, Neth; Hard indoor
Netherlands Arantxa Rus, Richel Hogenkamp, Bibiane Schoofs, Demi Schuurs
Canada Bianca Andreescu, Rebecca Marino, Francoise Abanda, Gabriela Dabrowski
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