It is the first time that Great Britain has been part of the elite World Group for 27 years, and the British Nos. 2 and 3 Heather Watson and Harriet Dart will be leading the way.
Anne Keothavong said, when the team was announced at the end of January:
“I’m pleased to announce the team for the Fed Cup Qualifier against Slovakia. Naturally we are disappointed not to have Johanna Konta and Katie Boulter available for selection, but we have some very exciting young players in our squad who are ecstatic to be part of this team and I’m sure will rise to the big occasion.
“Every Fed Cup tie creates a unique pressure and intensity which I’m sure our players will thrive on and, even though we have a difficult challenge ahead against Slovakia, I have every confidence our squad will do themselves and their country proud. I’m looking forward to getting everyone together next week to start preparations.”
What’s new with the format?
The eight winning nations this weekend will join 2019 champions France, runners-up Australia, wild-card Czech Republic and the host nation Hungary in the Finals, making up the field of 12 teams. The draw for the Finals will take place on Tuesday 11 February in Budapest.
The rest of the ties, in full this weekend are:
USA v Latvia
Netherlands v Belarus
Romania v Russia
Brazil v Germany
Spain v Japan
Switzerland v Canada
Belgium v Kazakhstan
This weekend’s ties will be played over five matches with each being best-of-three tie-break sets.
On Friday, the home nation’s No. 1 player will play against the away nation’s No. 2 player and vice versa, with the order of those matches to be determined by the draw on Thursday. On Saturday, the reverse singles matches (i.e. No. 1 v No. 1 followed by No. 2 v No. 2) will take place, followed by a doubles match.
At the Finals in April, the 12 nations will compete in four groups of three teams, with the four group winners contesting semi-finals and the Fed Cup Final on Sunday 19 April. Each tie at the Finals will be played in one day and consist of two singles matches (No. 1 v No. 1 followed by No. 2 v No. 2), with the potentially-decisive doubles match the final match of the tie.
The 8 losing nations this weekend will compete in the Fed Cup Play-offs in April along with the best-performing nations from the regional Group I events. Victory in the Play-offs will guarantee a place in next year’s Fed Cup Qualifiers.
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Only tour level head-to-heads are included but one thing that Watson can take some confidence from is that she beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova at a $100k in Slovakia in 2017 – on clay. Watson managed to finish the year on a high, and overall had a decent spell in Australia, and has certainly fared better than Schmiedlova who has just one win to her name in 2020.
Schmiedlova’s career has centred very much on the dirt and it plays well into her style of play. However Watson can grind and counterpunch with the best of them and if she can stick in with the rallies, then she stands a good chance of gutsing out a win.
Viktoria Kuzmova v Harriet Dart | Kuzmova leads 1-0 (Tied 0-0 at a tour level)
Again Dart comes into this encounter with some good matches under her belt, whereas the higher ranked Viktoria Kuzmova also only has one win under her belt. She can generate a decent amount of power and can focus her aggressive baseline play to see points finish early, but can also have real off-days.
Dart has a lot of a precision and power, and will hang in there, but Kuzmova is probably just a little more comfortable on the dirt.
Play will start at 1500 GMT on both Friday 7 and Saturday 8 February. BBC Sport will be showing the tie live online and on red button.
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