Fed Cup 2020: GB drawn away from home yet again, in bid to keep World Group status

GB faces playoff in Mexico to regain place in 2021 Qualifiers after loss in Slovakia

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Heather Watson and Harriet Dart
Heather Watson and Harriet Dart (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

The GB Fed Cup squad did at least find themselves playing in front of a home crowd during their 2019 campaign to reach World Group level.

After all, in their previous four World Group II play-off ties, they had been away to Sweden in 2012, Argentina in 2013, Romania in 2017 and Japan in 2018.

So to find themselves playing first in Bath, where they beat all-comers without loss to win the tough Europe/Africa Group I, and then at the Olympic Park’s Copper Box in London to win their World Group II Play-off was indeed a red-letter occasion. Little wonder that, despite going down a set in three of their singles rubbers, Jo Konta and Katie Boulter won a thrilling tie against Kazakhstan, 3-1.

For GB had played in 15 different countries since its previous home advantage in 1993. And in all the four finals that GB had contested, dating back to 1967, they had also failed to enjoy a home crowd, and lost all four title bouts.

Therefore, GB is still waiting to win this prestigious inter-nation tournament despite being one of only four countries to have competed in every Fed Cup competition.

But the team’s 2019 upturn in this still largely home-and-away event was short lived.

Between that home run and this year’s campaign, the Fed Cup was reorganised its structure. GB would not, as expected, become one of eight nations in World Group II this year—with the chance to compete for the top tier in 2021. Instead, they became one of 16 nations competing in the Qualifiers, among whom were three of the teams that lost last April—including the nation that GB beat in London, Kazakhstan.

And once again, GB was drawn away, this time to Slovakia. Without either of the Copper Box’s star turns, Konta and Boulter, and played on Slovakia’s chosen clay, it was always going to be an uphill task to become one of the eight winning Qualifiers that went on to join the dozen teams in the new-format Finals in Budapest. Sure enough, despite some sterling efforts from Heather Watson and Harriet Dart, GB went out, 3-1.

So GB once again had to run the gauntlet of a home-or-away draw, and once again drew the short straw: Mexico—in Mexico. The British players will also be expecting another clay tie, though on paper, they should substantially outrank their Mexican opposition.

The home side does not boast one singles player in the top 250, and only one doubles player, at No78, inside the top 175. And even without Konta and Boulter, GB’s Watson and Dart are considerably higher up the ranks.

Nevertheless, captain Anne Keothavong will hope that Konta, who has a ranking high of No4—now 14 after injury marred the end of her 2019 season—will opt back into the squad. Boulter, too, will hope to be in contention after extensive injury problems following her Fed Cup success last April. She has been working back to fitness via the ITF circuit, and still has a protected ranking of 85.

Keothavong said of the draw:

“Mexico will present a challenge as it’s a long way to travel. However, we’ll go there with the belief that we can win. I know the players and fantastic backroom team will do everything they can to make sure we get another chance to qualify for the finals again next year.”

If they win in Mexico, they will again get the chance next February to qualify for the 2021 Finals, but if they lose, they will be relegated to the Europe/Africa zone.

The Finals: Budapest, 14-19 April

12 nations are divided into four groups of three; group winners to contest the semis

Group A

France [2019 finalist] No1 seed

Russia

Hungary [host]

Group B

Australia [2019 finalist] No2 seed

Belarus

Belgium

Group C

USA No3 seed

Slovakia

Spain

Group D

Czech Republic [wild card] No4 seed

Germany

Switzerland

Qualifier Play-offs, various locations, 17-18 April

Eight winning nations will progress to the Fed Cup Qualifiers in 2021. The eight losing nations will compete in their respective regional Group I event in 2021.

Poland (c) vs Brazil

Mexico (c) vs Great Britain

Serbia (c) v Canada

Latvia vs TBC [from Asia/Oceania Group I]

Japan (c) vs Ukraine

Romania (c) vs Italy

Argentina (c) vs Kazakhstan

Netherlands vs TBC [from Asia/Oceania Group I]

c = choice of ground

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