Fed Cup hopes in safe hands of next generation

 

It is 20 years since Britain's women last played in the Fed Cup's elite World Group, but the emergence of Heather Watson and Laura Robson could see the team take a significant step towards that goal this week. The British squad, captained by Judy Murray, are among the favourites to qualify from the Europe/Africa Zone Group One matches in Israel, which would leave them just one win away from returning to the top level.

Watson and Robson, who have climbed to No 41 and No 45 respectively in the world rankings, will spearhead Britain's challenge and will be supported by Johanna Konta (world No 142), who is making her debut, and Anne Keothavong (world No 145), a veteran of 43 rubbers in the competition. Elena Baltacha, who is recovering from ankle surgery and is on course to play again in April, has joined the team in Eilat to offer the benefit of her experience.

Keothavong and Baltacha were the mainstays 12 months ago, when Britain reached the World Group play-offs before losing in Sweden, while the recent progress of 20-year-old Watson and 19-year-old Robson, along with the emergence of 21-year-old Konta, gives hope for long-term success.

"Heather and Laura have had a very exciting last 12 months," Murray said. "I think we're in a very strong position. We have three young players in the team in Laura, Heather and Jo whose careers are very much on the way up. We have the incredible experience of Anne and Bally, who have played so many Fed Cup ties and are just wonderful professionals. It's a great platform and a great opportunity for us to move forward."

The format of the Fed Cup means that most teams outside the World Group compete in only one week of the year. Sixteen countries have gathered in Eilat this week and have been split into four pools of four, the winners of which go into play-offs on Saturday for the right to progress to an April play-off for a place in next year's World Group. Each match consists of two singles rubbers and one doubles.

The draw has been kind to Britain, who have avoided most of the other favourites, including Poland (led by Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska), Romania (Sorana Cirstea and Andreea Mitu) and Croatia (Donna Vekic and Tereza Mrdeza). In their Pool B matches Britain will face Bosnia/Herzegovina today, Portugal tomorrow and Hungary on Friday.

Hungary, whose best players are Timea Babos (world No 79) and Greta Arn (world No 138), are likely to be Britain's toughest opponents. The Netherlands (Arantxa Rus and Richel Hogenkamp) and Bulgaria (Tsvetana Pironkova and Dia Evtimova) are expected to be the strongest teams in Pool D, who will meet the winners of Pool B on Saturday.

Murray believes success in the competition can play a major part in further developing British women's tennis, which is enjoying its best spell for more than two decades. Watson recently became the first British woman to win a title on the main tour for 24 years, while Robson has beaten three Grand Slam champions – Kim Clijsters, Li Na and Petra Kvitova – in the last two Grand Slam tournaments.

"I think the Fed Cup is the perfect platform to really push more girls and more women into getting into playing tennis," Murray said. "It's pretty much the only team event the girls can all play and get together as a group to represent their country, because on the tour tennis is obviously very much an individual sport. In terms of raising the profile of women's tennis in Britain and growing the profile of our incredible group of female players that we have at the moment, it's absolutely vital."

Fed Cup: Britain's opponents

Europe/Africa Zone Group One:

Venue Eilat, Israel

Pool A Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Georgia

Pool B Britain, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Hungary, Portugal

Pool C Israel, Poland, Romania, Turkey

Pool D Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent