Keothavong eyes upset as Great Britain look to end Fed Cup wait

April 21 2017, 2.14pmUpdated: April 21 2017, 8.33pm
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Great Britain will hope they are not blown away by a Romanian storm as they try to end a 24-year wait to reach the elite level of the Fed Cup.

Preparations for the World Group II play-off in the Black Sea resort of Constanta have been disrupted by high winds, rain and even a few flurries of snow, making outdoor practice difficult at the Tenis Club IDU.

However, the good news is the forecast is better for the weekend, when a British team led by Johanna Konta will take on a strong Romanian line-up.

Captain Anne Keothavong said: “It hasn’t been ideal. Yesterday was a complete wash-out, we were practising in the indoor bubble but it’s the same for both teams. It’s cold, it’s wet, the conditions will be heavy, but we’re ready.”

Romania go into the tie as favourites on home soil and on their best surface, with world number five Simona Halep contesting the opening rubber in her home city against Heather Watson.

If Britain are to win they will need Konta, now ranked seventh after her recent Miami Open triumph, to produce the form that has made her one of the most dangerous players in the women’s game.

Clay is not her best surface but a win over 33rd-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu in the second rubber is a must if Britain are to stand a chance of pulling off a shock.

The Fed Cup is very much the poor relation to the Davis Cup in terms of profile, and Keothavong’s predecessor Judy Murray resigned last year partly out of frustration with the format.

Britain have been trying to escape the Europe/Africa Zone since 1993 without success.

Murray twice led them to similar play-offs against Sweden and Argentina in 2012 and 2013 respectively but defeats sent them back to square one.

Former British number one Keothavong has sought advice from Murray and Davis Cup captain Leon Smith and is optimistic her side can exceed expectations.

She said: “Judy has been a really good mentor for me. I’ve picked her brain on lots of subjects and she’s got a lot of knowledge and has been willing to help, which has been great for me.

“I’m just as desperate to get out of this group, there’s nothing more I would like to see than Great Britain in a World Group and that’s something that’s a possibility.

“We’ve got a fantastic group of gifted and talented players and they’re capable of scoring big wins on the big stages. I think the Romanians will feel the pressure and it’s up to the players and all of us to take advantage of that.”

Watson has had a difficult season, dropping to 113 in the rankings, but has an excellent record in Fed Cup and only lost 12 games in four matches in the group stage in February.

She said: “I really enjoy the team environment, especially having everyone at the side of the court, cheering me on and backing me. It’s different from a regular tournament and I think I really thrive in it and that shows in my results.”

The other two team members, Laura Robson and Jocelyn Rae, will, if needed, play the final doubles rubber on Sunday against Monica Niculescu and Sorana Cirstea.

Robson continues to make slow progress following her long absence with wrist problems but will be courtside with her tambourine cheering on Konta and Watson.

The Romanian team are captained by former world number one Ilie Nastase, who played up to his reputation by asking Keothavong for her number while they posed for pictures at the draw, leaving the British captain looking rather uncomfortable.

He was upbeat about his team’s chances, saying: “I’m confident, that’s why I’m here. I think we are going to win. My girls are in good form and we will see.”

Halep has not played a match in Constanta since her junior days, and she added: “It’s amazing to have the chance to play again here and also in this club, the owner of the club helped me in the past. It will be a little bit emotional but I hope to do my best tomorrow.”



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