Johanna Konta to spearhead Great Britain team for Fed Cup clash with Japan
Johanna Konta will lead Great Britain’s bid to reach the elite level of the Fed Cup when they take on Japan in the World Group II play-offs later this month.
Wimbledon semi-finalist Konta and Heather Watson will be the singles players for the tie on hard courts at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki, while doubles specialist Anna Smith and debutante Gabi Taylor make up the four-woman team.
Japan’s team is led by 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who has surged up the rankings this year and recently won one of the biggest titles on the WTA Tour in Indian Wells. Their second-ranked player is world number 100 Kurumi Nara.
Britain have not played in the World Group since 1993, which was also the last time they had a home tie in the competition, and there was dismay at yet another away trip when the draw was made in February.
Anne Keothavong’s side negotiated the Europe/Africa Zone comfortably to reach the play-offs for the fourth time in seven years and will hope to go one better than in 2012, 2013 and 2017, when they lost to Sweden, Argentina and Romania, respectively.
Last year’s tie was overshadowed by the shocking behaviour of Romania captain Ilie Nastase, who was subsequently banned for various offences, including verbally abusing Keothavong and Konta on court.
Keothavong said ahead of the tie from April 21-22: “I am delighted to name our strongest possible team. We have been so close since 2012 and hopefully the fourth will be a charm.
“Women’s tennis in the UK is at its highest point in over three decades and we now have eight players inside the world’s top 250, led by Johanna and Heather. Japan will have home support and a very capable team.”
The concern for Britain is that both Konta and Watson are struggling for form. Konta has slipped from ninth in the rankings at the start of the year to 23rd while Watson, ranked 77th, is on a run of seven straight losses and has not won a match since January.
By contrast, Taylor has enjoyed a stunning start to 2018, winning three lower-tier titles and climbing from 323 in the rankings to 175.
The 20-year-old, who hit the headlines at Wimbledon two years ago when it was claimed she had been poisoned, has been picked ahead of Katie Boulter after usurping her as British number four.
British number three Naomi Broady does not make herself available for Fed Cup because of a long-running family dispute with the Lawn Tennis Association.