Great Britain’s women face another difficult away trip in the Fed Cup, as they play for the right to compete in the inaugural finals week in Budapest next April.
The draw has pitted Anne Keothavong’s team against Slovakia, who have three top-100 players: Viktoria Kuzmova (ranked 54), Dominika Cibulkova (68) and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (96).
The tie will be staged on the weekend of Feb 7-8, immediately after the Australian Open, and it seems likely that the Slovakians will choose an indoor clay court. In theory, Great Britain should have access to world No 16 Johanna Konta, and will also be hopeful of fielding Katie Boulter (now down at No 220 after four months of inactivity), assuming that her long-term back injury heals in time.
This is the latest in a string of challenging away ties dating back to 2012 – the moment that the British Fed Cup team began to gain momentum under the captaincy of Judy Murray. Under the old format, Murray and Keothavong (who took over in 2017) each earned two World Group play-offs. Unfortunately, they were drawn away from home each time, and did not manage to convert.
The sequence seemed to have been broken this year. Great Britain finally drew a home tie, against Kazakhstan in April, which they won in dramatic style, with Boulter exacerbating her back condition as she claimed the decisive point. How ironic that the format then changed, and the result was rendered irrelevant. Kazakhstan are also involved in the eight play-offs, which involve the teams ranked between No 5 and No 19 in the world, along with the United States.
Four teams are already confirmed for finals week: this year’s finalists Australia and France, along with perennial champions the Czech Republic – who received a wild card last week – and hosts Hungary.
Home advantage plays a big role in the Fed Cup. Despite Konta’s fine form on the European clay this spring, the British team are still perceived to be more comfortable on hard courts, which is why indoor clay is the likely choice of surface.
“Now we know that we will face Slovakia away in February we can look towards preparing with excellence,” said Keothavong. “It goes without saying there are no easy matches at any stage of the competition and we have worked hard to get to where we are now. We are looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store for us as we continue to improve as a team.”