Trying as hard as they did, Team GB fell short without Johanna Konta in the Fed Cup Qualifiers in Bratislava after Anna Karolina Schmiedlova made it a weekend of personal and national achievement by safely guiding Slovakia into the inaugural Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals in April.
Without her this week, we certainly felt it, but it would have been tough even if she had made herself available. Maybe I'll remind her about her heroic performances last year, and what she did on the back of those wins - maybe that might help her change her mind. Anne Keothavong
Britain lost by 3 rubbers to 1 and now must face a play-off to avoid relegation to the Europe/Africa zone, which is notoriously difficult to get out of.
Captain Anne Keothavong hopes to persuade Konta, ranked No 14 in the world, to play in the next Fed Cup tie after she missed their qualifying defeat by Slovakia, opting to sit out the tie to reduce her workload and protect her body instead.
“Without her this week, we certainly felt it, but it would have been tough even if she had made herself available,” Keothavong told BBC Sport.
“Maybe I’ll remind her about her heroic performances last year, and what she did on the back of those wins – maybe that might help her change her mind.”
The British No 1, who made her Fed Cup debut in 2013 and has won 18 of her 25 singles matches, was instrumental in April’s World Group II play-off victory over Kazakhstan when she came from a set down against Zarina Diyas and Yulia Putintseva to help Great Britain end a 26-year wait for Fed Cup promotion.
Her performances acted as a catalyst for her success in the clay-court season that followed, when she reached finals in Morocco and Rome before a run to the semi-finals of the French Open.
Konta, 28, went out in the first round at the Australian Open last month, having only played one tournament since September’s US Open because of a knee injury.
In her absence alongside former British No 2 Katie Boulter, who is in the early stages of a return from a back stress fracture, the British team in Bratislava was led by Heather Watson and Harriet Dart.
Watson kept British hopes alive on Day 2, professionally dismantling Rebecca Sramkova, 6-0 7-5, a late substitute for Viktoria Kuzmova, who was too fatigued by her draining win over Dart on Day 1 to play.
Less than an hour before the start of the rubber, Watson found herself looking for match videos of the 202-ranked Sramkova on YouTube, having never seen her play.
“I felt so much more comfortable and served a lot better than in my first match,” said Watson. “She [Sramkova] was a bit nervous at the start and I dropped my level in the second set so it became more of a dogfight.
“But I was strong in the important moments at the end.
“I felt anything was possible in the fourth match for Harriet, because it always is when you fight. It’s the mental aspect that separates players.”
Dart’s heroic effort to take the tie into the doubles decider, however, fell short against Schmiedlova, 7-5 6-3, in a battle that lasted an hour and 42 minutes and propelled Slovakia to Budapest.
It proved a step too far for Dart, who had fought for nearly 3 hours with Kuzmova less than 24 hours before.
Schmiedlova is known for her retrieval of the ball, but Dart kept making her play one more stroke, exhausting stuff on the back of that Kuzmova test, yet her focus did not waver as she coolly queried line calls and saw them overturned in her favour.
The Slovak remained unflustered, sliding expertly on the clay, and pouncing at 6-5 with 2 killer strikes before errors from Dart drew the first set to a close.
Dart stoutly set about climbing the mountain again, saving 2 match points before eventually being snuffed out.
As Dart sobbed court-side, the Slovaks took a lap of honour with their national flag.