Great Britain out to make good on wildcard in Billie Jean King Cup tie with Kazakhstan

Harriet Dart

Great Britain are drawing on positive memories as they prepare to take on Kazakhstan and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals on Tuesday.

Anne Keothavong’s team kick off their campaign at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow with victories over the Kazakhs and Spain on Thursday likely to be needed to clinch an unlikely semi-final spot.

Britain’s previous biggest recent tie in the competition formerly known as Fed Cup took place against Kazakhstan at London’s Copper Box in 2019, when victory saw GB return to the elite level of the event for the first time in more than 25 years.

Katie Boulter clinched the winning point with victory over Zarina Diyas and has hugely-fond memories of the occasion despite playing through a back injury that ruled her out for more than six months and from which her ranking has yet to recover.

“It already is giving me some pretty good vibes and I just hope we can bring those in and use that experience,” said the 26-year-old, who is the British number two for the week behind Harriet Dart.

“I’m pretty excited to get going and hopefully we can do the same as we did back then. It’s something that’s in my core memory and I won’t ever forget that one.”

Boulter and Kazakh number two Yulia Putintseva are both likely to play again but the Kazakhs will have high hopes of turning the tables given the presence of Rybakina, who defeated Ons Jabeur to win her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in July, and high-ranking doubles player Anna Danilina.

Britain, playing by virtue of being the host nation, are weakened by the absences of the now retired Johanna Konta, who won both her singles matches in 2019, and number one Emma Raducanu, currently sidelined by a wrist injury.

Captain Keothavong said: “I think we recognise that we’re the underdogs in our group. There’s no doubt about that.

“But, equally, the players on this team are capable of scoring big wins and I think they’ve showed, if not this year then in the past, that they are capable of competing against the very best. So we do feel like we’ve got a good shot at it.

“The fact that I’ve got options on this team puts me as captain in a good position. We’ve had a fun few days here in Glasgow. Preparation has been as good as it could have been.”

It would be a major surprise if Keothavong did not favour Dart and Boulter over her third singles option, Heather Watson, and her big decision will come if the tie goes to a deciding doubles rubber.

Having initially favoured Dart and Watson, Keothavong reacted to the withdrawal of Raducanu by calling up rookie doubles pair Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls.

Britain’s victory over Kazakhstan three-and-a-half years ago eventually counted for little given the rebrand of the competition, which has resulted in this 12-team finals event.

The Russian Tennis Federation won the title last year but are banned this time, leaving the USA and Czech Republic – who are both in the same group – as the strongest-looking teams.

Unlike world number one Iga Swiatek, who made herself unavailable for Poland, Coco Gauff has made the dash from the WTA Finals in Texas, which does not conclude until Monday evening.

The WTA and International Tennis Federation, which runs the Billie Jean King Cup, have vowed to address the scheduling conflict for future years.

US captain Kathy Rinaldi, who had to make a late change when world number three Jessica Pegula pulled out on Monday, said: “I’m very thankful that Coco’s coming, it’s a great effort on her part.

“It’s been a long year for all of these players. Obviously it’s been tough circumstances with Covid and the scheduling. I think everybody’s doing the best they can. Obviously it’s not optimal.”

The event begins on Tuesday morning with Slovakia taking on Australia.

READ MORE: Emma Raducanu turns to England captain Harry Kane for advice

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