Anne Keothavong’s first stint as Fed Cup captain has started tremendously with a perfect record in all three of Great Britain’s Pool C matches against Latvia, Portugal and now Turkey. Heather Watson stormed through her respective singles match against Turkey’s No.2 player Ipek Soylu, dropping just the one game. World No. 10, Johanna Konta, faced a sterner test than many would have anticipated as she dropped the opening set to the gritty Cagla Buyukakcay, but eventually turned the match in her favour to clinch the top spot for Great Britain.
Now, Great Britain face an even greater challenge as they compete against Croatia for a place in a Fed Cup tie in April where the winner will play in the World Group II play-offs. That would be a gigantic step in a short period of time for British tennis, who looked to have been stuck in a Fed Cup hole that they could never get out of. The performance of Johanna Konta could be the catalyst that Great Britain have been longing for in order to shoot up to the highest level of Fed Cup and get back into the World Group, where all the strongest countries are present.
Heather Watson vs Donna Vekic H2H: Vekic leads 1-0
The Fed Cup promotion play-off really is a massive opportunity for both Great Britain and Croatia. There is so much at stake, so much to play for and an opportunity that does not come around very often, which will be something that Keothavong will stress to her team leading into this tie.
The Croatian team have some of the finest crop of young talent bursting onto the WTA scene, so their job really is to live up to the expectations that have followed both Ana Konjuh and Donna Vekic from a very early age.
Vekic, the older of the two Croatians at 20 years of age, is one of the young generation that achieved a lot on the tour at a very fast pace, but her career did not continue to follow the same trajectory as she struggled for results for a number of years now. At the age of 16, Vekic was already making WTA finals and just two years later claimed her first WTA title – but why has continued success not followed in recent years?
Watson can win this match through her superior movement on the court. She enjoys the problem-solving of a competitive tennis match, whereas Vekic looks quite laboured on the tennis court unless things are under her control. That could be the major difference in this head-to-head. Vekic has the potential to take the match and racquet out of your hands, but that is not the case in professional tennis. Sometimes you have to rely on your defence and application to the cause to get through matches and Vekic is still quite a distance from finding the happy medium.
Watson gets a lot of credit for her hard work and her counterpunching qualities, but she can pack a punch too. Since working with Greg Rusedski in 2015, Watson has transformed her serve into a considerable weapon, which often does not get talked about – Her serve now can buy her a lot of cheap points.
British No.1 Konta faces Konjuh in the second singles rubber. It is a difficult match on paper. Konjuh is a decorated junior, who achieved everything in her younger years, winning the 2013 Australian Open and US Open in singles and is now a Top 40 player in singles on the WTA tour after reaching the quarter-final of the US Open last year.
With Konta in her current form, Great Britain has a player that can lead us to great success. The confidence and belief that she has in herself as a result of the great match-wins she has produced in the last two years have transformed her into the player we see in 2017.
In this match-up, Konta has to be careful and precise as to when she chooses to attack the Konjuh backhand. Konjuh’s backhand is the better shot, while the forehand is quite loopy and lacks pace. The Brit has a natural skill of rushing her opposition by taking the ball extremely early and refusing to give up her stranglehold of the baseline and this could be significant when these two meet.
The Croatian will give Konta a run for her money, but the Brit is in a great frame of mind at the moment and looks one of the hottest players on the tour right now.
Prediction: Konta in two sets.
Jocelyn Rae and Laura Robson vs Ana Konjuh and Darija Jurak
Jocelyn Rae and Laura Robson have looked stellar all week in the doubles and are yet to lose a match on the doubles court. This could get interesting if it turns out to be a match that decides who progresses to the World Group II Play-offs. All week both Robson and Rae have had the luxury of playing with no real consequence or worry for the result because Great Britain have looked so brilliant in singles.
I do think Great Britain will come through the first two singles matches with the two wins they need and then Rae and Robson should back up the team with an unblemished record in the four Fed Cup matches they have played this week in Estonia.
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