· Johanna Konta scored her 11th straight Fed Cup singles win to give GB a 2-1 lead in London
· Katie Boulter also came back from set and break down to beat Zarina Diyas to seal place in World Group 2 for first time in 26 years, 3-1
· Plus: Australia beat Belarus 3-2 to reach Fed Cup final for first time in 26 years: will play at home in November against France or Romania
This time around, there was certainly one important advantage over all those previous ties—and the squad has reached the Group 2 Play-offs in five of the last eight years: They had played at home in 2019 for the first time since 1993.
In the first of 2019, in Bath, GB came through the entire Europe/Africa Zone Group pool and knock-out stages unbeaten, against Slovenia, Greece, Hungary and Serbia. Indeed since 2012, GB had won more ties than any other nation in the group stages, 27 out of 32, and came to the Olympic Park, London, on a 14-tie unbeaten run.
But for all the home support at the Copper Box Arena—and perhaps only 500 of the 6,000 capacity were behind the visitors, Kazakhstan—the challenge was proving a tough one.
GB’s top woman, Johanna Konta—a former top-10 player currently down at 46—was forced to come back from a slow start against Kazakhstan’s second player, Zarina Diyas, to seal the first rubber in the third set.
But GB’s No2, Katie Boulter, playing the highest ranked woman in the tie, No38, Julia Putintseva, let a blistering start slip away via an injury, three match-points, and a lead in deciding tie-break. She was, she said, devastated, and it was understandable. Would she be fit to take on Diyas in the reverse singles? She was optimistic:
“I’m going to doing my absolute best to recover tonight. I was just struggling a little bit physically… but I’ve got a great team around me so I’m sure I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
First up, Konta took two previous clay meetings into her vital match against Putintseva: They shared those two contests. But would the Briton let the feisty, uncompromising style of the Kazakh, underpinned by some raucous brass-band support from the side-lines, upset her rhythm and focus? About her first match, she was pragmatic:
“It is a tricky situation for any player to face, but you get more resilient as the match goes on. You adapt and find a way to deal with the challenges.”
She certainly started a lot more confidently on this Easter Sunday afternoon: a love hold. She had clearly determined to up her attacking play, too, and pounded into the net at every opportunity on the Putintseva serve. It earned her a break point, but the Kazakh held her off—a timely ace, a great lob, 1-1.
However, Putintseva was wise to her, teased her in for an overhead and passed her, chased down a drop attempt and again passed her. On break point, it was the small Kazakh who raced to the net for an overhead winner, 2-1.
Konta replied in kind, this time deploying her big forehand to break back, and that same forehand pounded through the court to hold.
But a sequence of over-hit forehands from the Briton gives Putintseva a timely break chance, and she grabs it. A drop shot beats Konta, and the Kazakh serves out the set to love, 6-4, after 44 minutes.
The second set began with Konta back to her aggressive tactics, and she went after the Putintseva serve to get an immediate break, 2-0. An even swifter hold and she was 3-0 to the good.
However, now Putintseva called for the doctor, had ice on her neck, and then her blood pressure taken. Perhaps the conditions—very warm and airless in this arena—but she played on and held serve. However, Konta was on a roll, and broke again for the set, 6-2.
But there was another reversal of fortunes at the start of the final set: Come the third game, Konta faced break point and then received a time violation when waiting for the balls to serve. Sure enough, seconds later, Putintseva broke, and rubbed salt into the wound with a love hold, 3-1.
Into the net, and Konta was passed: she would face two more break points. Another draw to the net, and Putintseva passed again, 4-1.
A long sixth game brought out the best in both women, and was concluded by Konta’s best drop shot of the weekend. After four deuces, Konta had a break chance, and took it for 2-4. A love hold kept her in the hunt at 4-5, but could she break Putintseva?
The answer was announced before the scoreboard by the crowd: Yes, she could, and then held strongly with some bold net play. She pulled out some of her best passing shots to confound the Kazakh, and against the odds just a quarter-of-an-hour before, broke to love for the rubber, 7-5, her 11th singles win in a row.
Now it just needed Boulter to pull off a similar win, and a place in the World Group would be sealed.
Boulter got a quick opening break, but Diyas levelled 2-2, and it remained painfully close all the way to a tie-break. Once there, however, Diyas surged through to claim the lead, 7-6(1).
After another exchange of breaks in the second set, Boulter upped the aggression, and serving to save the set, Diyas doubled faulted: the tie was all square, 6-4.
And as in her previous match, Boulter took a confident lead, 3-0, but she had led Putintseva 4-0 yesterday, and could not close it out. This time, it was a different player, confident, determined, and going for the kill. 3-0 became 5-1 with another break, and she served out the victory, 6-1, with an ace no less.
The Copper Box erupted. Where better to mark history than at London’s Olympic Park, but the last words belong to Anne Keothavong, whose home is a stone’s throw from here, and who has presided over three straight runs to World Group Playoffs which has now ended GB’s wait for promotion.
“Just a heroic effort from the players this week, some fantastic tennis. Everyone here has been part of our journey and this has been an unforgettable weekend. Jo’s effort, coming back from behind, to Katie today. I think they have inspired a lot of people.”
No denying that.
World Group semi-finals
Australia beat Belarus: Brisbane, Australia (hard outdoor), 3-2
France vs Romania: Rouen, France (clay indoor), 1-2
World Group Play-offs
Czech Republic beat Canada: Prostejov, Czech Rep (clay indoor), 4-0
USA vs Switzerland: San Antonio, USA (hard indoor), 0-0
Germany beat Latvia: Riga, Latvia (hard indoor), 3-1
Belgium vs Spain: Kortrijk, Belgium (hard indoor), 1-1
World Group 2 Play-offs
Japan beat Netherlands: Osaka, JPN (hard outdoor), 4-0
GB vs Kazakhstan: London, GB (hard indoor), 1-1
Russia beat Italy: Moscow, Russia (clay indoor), 3-0
Slovakia beat Brazil: Bratislava, Slovakia (clay indoor), 3-0
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