Bath | Konta collapses but wins for Britain
Great Britain staggered across the finish line in Bath to secure a chance to reach the elite World Group of the Fed Cup on Saturday, a day full of drama and some controversy.
I’m just so proud, so, so proud, It’s been unforgettable. The guts, the courage shown by Jo and Katie today. These girls are stronger than they realise. Anne Keothavong
Johanna Konta, physically and mentally exhausted from playing her third three-set match is as many days, collapsed when leaving the court after losing the second set against the talented Aleksandra Krunic, the World No 57 from Serbia.
Slumped on the floor in the tunnel during the break, Konta barely made it off the court feeling ‘light-headed’ and was treated by medical staff where she lay.
Eventually she was able to stand and returned to the locker room to change her clothes where, apparently, she was given the option of retiring from the match by Captain Anne Keothavong.
“She didn’t have to continue if she felt like she couldn’t, but she wanted to,” Keothavong said later. “She showed so much courage and determination to find a way.”
Konta is made of stern stuff and returned to the court some time later, recovering sufficiently to win 7-6(1) 3-6 6-2, to send Great Britain into World Group II play-off in April.
The lengthy break at the end of the second set, however, was later described by Krunic as unfair, while claiming she didn’t notice any difference in Konta’s condition.
“It’s difficult for everybody. None of us is fresh, we just cope with it differently I guess,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a fair play, no. But if she had health problems then I can’t complain. If she almost fainted and she was lying on the ground then it took as long as she needed to get up and play again.
“No I wasn’t surprised [at how Konta played in the third set], I wasn’t paying much attention on what they’re telling me about her health because I was paying attention to how she plays.
“Regarding her play, I didn’t see anything wrong with her on the court.”
Boulter had earlier given Britain the perfect start, defeating Ivana Jorovic, 6-4 6-3, to extend her perfect record this week to 4-0.
The 21-year-old Jorovic was surprisingly given the nod to start ahead of bright 18-year-old talent Olga Danilovic, who was forced to watch on from the Serbian sidelines as Boulter dominated her compatriot.
It was a cool, impressive performance from the 22-year-old Brit, who until Wednesday had never played a Fed Cup singles match before, but who has emerged from this week with confidence and real belief that big things are in her future.
The Serb cut a nervy figure, serving a double fault in the first point of 3 of her opening 4 service games, but she kept chipping away and broke Boulter twice to make the first set competitive.
Boulter was always in control after a double break of her own to kickstart proceedings and she took a one-set lead after 43 minutes.
A cracking return game from the Leicester-born World No 83 put her in a commanding position at the start of the second, which quickly evaporated as Jorovic struck straight back, with Boulter suddenly looking rather weary, perhaps feeling the effects of her lengthy battle with Hungary’s Dalma Galfi on Friday evening.
Boulter has shown herself to be a plucky competitor this week, however, and she broke again before escaping a gruelling service game to move within one game of the match.
The key moment for the British No 2 came in that 8th game of the second, with Boulter serving at 4-3, when Jorovic held 4 break points to get herself back on track but missed them all, allowing the Brit to finally move ahead 5-3.
The Serb’s belief seemed to ebb away as a result and Boulter tied up proceedings in straight sets.
“I came into this week not knowing what to expect and to get four wins on my singles debut is better than I ever imagined,” said Boulter, who now has a perfect 6-0 record in Fed Cup.
“To know that I can go through four tough matches – I did the same in St Petersburg last week as well – to do that consistently week after week means a lot to me and it’ll give me a lot of confidence.”
“I am close to tears right now,” Boulter said after her win over the World No 117, a year younger than her at 21.
“It has been a really long week. It means everything and so much more than that. I put everything on the court and have so much heart.
“I wasn’t going in to this week thinking: ‘I’m going to win four matches.’ I was just putting my heart on the line and doing the best that I can, and then seeing what comes of it.”
The British No 2 has yet to suffer defeat when representing her country, winning two doubles prior to her singles debut at the University of Bath on Wednesday.
She has gone on to record four singles victories on home soil and surely cemented her place as a regular fixture in British singles for the coming years, having impressed both mentally and physically in this gruelling event.
In the WTA ranking she has already surpassed the absent Heather Watson, who was taken ill on Tuesday in Bath, and it seems unlikely that Captain Keothavong will be dropping the 22-year-old any time soon after this series of gritty displays.
Konta’s defiant win in the second rubber clinched the deal for Britain, although Krunic must certainly feel that she should have won the first set after serving for it at 5-4, and again at 6-5, before Konta played a perfect tiebreak.
The Serb hit back from 0-2 in the second to force a decider by wining the next 6 out of 7 games, before the match took its dramatic turn, with Konta’s tank running close to empty.
After collapsing in the public area of the arena on the way to the changing rooms and needing medical attention, the next 45 minutes on court were all the more extraordinary as Konta shortened the points, struck the ball harder and honed her will into the win.
She broke for 3-1 and, when she served out the match a few games later, slumped to the floor unable to move.
Somehow she had gathered herself to find a way past the Serb 6-2 in the third to earn Britain a 2-0 victory and a place in April’s World Group II play-offs for the fifth time in the last eight years, and a win in that tie will return GB to the World Group for the first time since 1993.
The result marked the end of an exhausting but highly successful week for Keothavong’s team in front of sell-out crowds at the University of Bath.
“I progressively started feeling more and more unwell, feeling light-headed and shaky and feeling a little bit out of body and it got the better of me at the end of the second set,” a dazed-looking Konta told the media afterwards.
“I really just tried not to panic and assess what I could do and do the best I could.
“As soon as I started feeling not quite right, and as soon as I came back out, I had to quickly assess what my limitations were, and get the most out of what I could do.
“I was able to do that, which made it difficult for her to do what she wanted with the ball, and I think that enabled me to come through.
“I don’t even remember how the last point finished. All I remember is that the ball didn’t come back and I was overcome with emotion.”
Once the British squad and fans court side had processed what had just happened it was the turn of captain Keothavong to try to make sense of events.
“Jo showed so much heart,” she said. “It was such a gutsy performance from her.
“She was pretty much running on empty but she found a way, dug deep and I couldn’t be prouder of her and the rest of the team. I don’t how she did it, but she did.
“I said to her, ‘If you can’t do this then you don’t need to do this’ but she assured me she wanted to at least try and give herself the chance and give the team a chance and she did and credit to her.
“You can’t underestimate the emotional energy that goes into this and everything adds up. It’s not your standard tournament.”
When Britain lobbied the ITF last summer to stage a first home tie since that last appearance in the World Group 26 years ago, they did so hoping that home advantage would get them out of Europe/Africa Group I.
“I’m just so proud, so, so proud,” she said. “It’s been unforgettable. The guts, the courage shown by Jo and Katie today. These girls are stronger than they realise.”
All week Konta had spoken about ‘leaving it all out there, putting her body and heart on the line in the quest to get them promoted.
“I’m feeling pretty rubbish but it’s OK,” said Konta, who needed help to get back to her feet to do the on-court interview with Claire Balding.
“The only thought I had was, even if it was just me that was going to be out here, at least that would be one obstacle that was going to be a challenge for her, at least make her win it.
“I just wanted to control what I could, really understand quickly my limitations and try to play within that and bring the most out of myself as possible, just with what I had, and I definitely zoned in.”
The draw for the play-offs takes place in London at 12:00 GMT on Tuesday and will be streamed live on FedCup.com.
There will be eight teams in the play-offs, including the other three winners of this week’s regional third-tier events and the four sides who lose World Group II ties this weekend.
It is at this stage that Great Britain have fallen 4 times in the past 7 years, most recently last April when they lost the deciding doubles rubber against a Japan team that featured current World No 1 Naomi Osaka.
“Here’s hoping for a home tie in April,” Konta added with a wan smile.