Fed Cup: Great Britain hope Bath crowd can inspire success
|Fed Cup 2019|
|Venue: University of Bath Dates: 6-9 February 2019|
|Coverage: BBC website will have live text commentaries on selected GB matches from 16:30 GMT on Wed-Fri.|
Great Britain's Fed Cup team are hoping that playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in 26 years can inspire them to end a painful recent record.
They can look forward to a sell-out crowd in Bath this week when they host an eight-team Europe/Africa round-robin event.
GB have been stuck in the third tier of the women's team tennis competition since 1993 and play-off defeats in four of the past eight years have ended their promotion bids at the final hurdle.
"Those losses certainly hurt," Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong told BBC Sport.
While Britain's men have enjoyed home ties in the Davis Cup, including in 2015 when they won the title, the women have played in 15 different countries since their last home match in Nottingham in May 1993.
"Hopefully it will be great because the players have always spoken about how much they want to play in front of a home crowd," Keothavong said.
"We've seen with the men - the Davis Cup team - how the crowd has been able to inspire those guys when they are out there on the court and I'm hoping for the same for the women."
Former world number one and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray said in January that he will be retiring this year, and when asked if the Fed Cup team could lift the mood of British tennis fans still reeling from that announcement, Keothavong replied: "I hope so.
"Andy has been a great supporter of women's tennis and women in sport and I'm sure he will be following how the team do very closely.
"I hope everyone gets to see the British women giving it their absolute best, playing with their all and passion out there. They have prepared the best they can and are in the best shape possible."
|GB's round-robin matches|
|Wednesday, 6 February: Great Britain v Slovenia (16:30 GMT)|
|Thursday, 7 February: Great Britain v Greece (16:30)|
|Friday, 8 February: Great Britain v Hungary (16:30)|
Who is in the British team?
Keothavong has picked her strongest team of Britain's top five players, including number one Johanna Konta.
They are boosted by a strong run of form by 22-year-old Katie Boulter, who has this year overtaken Heather Watson as British number two and on Monday reached a career-high ranking of 83.
Asked if that might affect the team dynamic, Keothavong said: "I know how competitive the other girls are so that will spur them on to want to do better as well - so you have this knock-on effect."
Also in the team are Katie Swan and Harriet Dart, who has dropped just one place below her career-high ranking of 121 this week.
Great Britain are in Group A with Slovenia, Greece and Hungary. While household names are lacking, the stiffest test is likely to come in the shape of Greek world number 38 Maria Sakkari.
Group B features Serbia, Georgia, Turkey and Croatia, who boast the highest-ranked singles player at the event in world number 25 Donna Vekic.
|Great Britain team||Ranking||Age||Fed Cup appearances|
The stats behind Britain's Fed Cup
- GB all of their most recent home ties in May 1993 - Luxembourg (3-0), Lithuania (3-0), Russia (3-0), Ukraine (3-0) and Turkey (3-0) to advance to the World Group.
- They have qualified for the World Group II play-off four times - in 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018.
- Johanna Konta defeated 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka in straight sets in Japan at last year's World Group II play-off.
- Katie Swan became the youngest woman (16 years and 316 days) to represent Britain at this event when she made her debut in 2016.
- Harriet Dart is making her Fed Cup debut this year.
- Heather Watson is the most experienced member of GB's team, having played every year since 2011.
The 'brutal' format - how does it work?
The eight teams are split into two groups. Each team plays three round-robin ties in their groups - with each tie comprising two singles and one doubles match.
The group winners face each other on Saturday, with the winner going through to April's World Group II play-offs.
That play-off is the golden ticket to promotion - and it is at that stage where Britain fell short in 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018.
The World Group in the Fed Cup is split into two divisions of eight teams, which means the winners of April's play-off would have to earn another promotion in 2020 to be able to compete for the title in 2021.
"There is no room for mistakes, it is pretty straightforward - beat every nation you are up against and you go through. Lose and there's nothing for another year," Keothavong said.
"Mentally it's tough on the players, coming out each day, the recovery, doing it all over again. Intensity levels are high, pressure is high, you just can't underestimate any of those factors.
"It's a brutal format," she added, "The team put so much into this competition and they really want to do well, and despite things not going as well as we would like in those play-off matches, we're still able to field a full-strength team and that says it all - they are back and they are hungry for more."
'A spectacular achievement' - Konta
British number one Johanna Konta: "I think this stage of the event gets really under appreciated. It's incredibly tough to come through the group stages. We're playing back-to-back matches, numerous days in a row, against some really great teams.
"For us to even have been able to come through this group, I think for four of the past seven years, is a pretty spectacular achievement. We want to be coming in on Saturday playing for a World Group II play-off position in April, but definitely taking it one match at a time, one team at a time."
On inspiring the next generation at the Fed Cup, Konta added: "I do think kids can sometimes relate more to their own sex - especially little girls watching women play, or young boys watching men play.
"However, a great athlete is a great athlete and I'm sure there's plenty of young boys inspired by what Serena [Williams] has achieved, and plenty of young girls inspired by what Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] have done."