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Billie Jean King Cup: Great Britain face Mexico in play-off

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Published in Tennis
Thursday, 15 April 2021 06:37

Even Billie Jean King herself has not got used to the title of the tournament that now bears her name.

And that is far from the only change Great Britain will also have to get used to as they prepare to face Mexico in a Billie Jean King Cup play-off without fans or Johanna Konta or the usual karaoke sessions they enjoyed when it was known as the Fed Cup.

British number one Konta is missing the two-day tie as she continues to manage a long-standing knee problem by avoiding switching between surfaces. This indoor hard-court tie falls during a period of preparations for the clay-court season.

In her absence, Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong will rely on the experienced Heather Watson to inspire the team who are heavy favourites to win at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

Victory would put Great Britain one win away from qualifying for the 2022 Finals.

What is the Billie Jean King Cup?

The Fed Cup was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup last year after the tennis great and founder of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

The new name is not tripping off everyone's tongue yet.

"I had the opportunity to chat to Billie Jean the other day and she was slipping back and calling it the Fed Cup and Federation Cup as well even though the event is named after her," Keothavong told BBC Sport. "So I try not to feel too bad when I make that mistake given that she does the same thing."

The women's international team competition has been revamped to feature a 12-nation Finals event.

The Fed Cup was launched in 1963, with the United States its most successful team with 18 titles. Great Britain have never won it but have been runners-up four times.

Who is playing for Great Britain?

While Konta may be missing the tie, she will be very close to the action because she has been training at the National Tennis Centre on the outdoor clay courts this week.

"She is part of the training facility that we can't access and she can't come anywhere near our bubble," Keothavong said.

In her absence, world number 68 Watson is the highest ranked player in the British team.

An experienced Fed Cup player, who has won 29 and lost 13 of her 42 Fed Cup matches, the 28-year-old is also the top-ranked player in the tie with Mexico's Marcela Zacarias the visitors' highest ranked at 285.

"On paper, on rankings, we are the favourites, there is no skirting around that," Keothavong said.

"We've got a home tie. Although we won't be playing in front of a supportive crowd, we still have that home advantage. The players are aware of what is expected of them and they have prepared as best as possible."

Katie Swan and Katie Boulter are on comebacks from injury spells, while Jodie Burrage has been included in the squad for the first time.

Team-building preparations for the tie have been different to previous years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Despite not being able to take part in some of the fun games - whether it's karaoke or cornholeexternal-link or whatever in the evening - we are still able to sit socially distanced from each other and talk and catch up," Keothavong said.

"Being together, sharing stories, having company, it's really nice in these times."

What is the format?

The best-of-five-match tie takes place across two days with two singles rubbers on Friday and the reverse singles and a doubles rubber on Saturday.

Play starts at 14:00 BST on Friday and at 11.30 on Saturday. There will be a pause in the schedule between 15:00 and 16:15 on Saturday to avoid a clash with Prince Philip's funeral.

Victory would put Great Britain into a qualifier next year where a win would send them into the Finals, while defeat would consign them to the Europe/Africa zone Group I event in 2022.

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