In a not entirely unexpected result, British hopes slumped somewhat when both Heather Watson and Harriet Dart suffered defeats in Slovakia on Friday, leaving hopes of reaching the new-look Fed Cup finals hanging by a thread.
It’s not ideal to be 0-2 down, but Saturday is another day. It’s going to take a huge effort to get back in the tie. Heather is going to have to play better than she did against Schmiedlova, but she’s had a good look at Kuzmova – and Harriet’s done a great job tiring her out. Anne Keothavong
Watson had forecast that Great Britain’s chances in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifier against Slovakia did not hinge entirely on her.
After being beaten 6-2 6-3 by World No 199 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Dart was narrowly edged out 6-7(7) 6-3 7-5 in a thrilling battle with Viktoria Kuzmova.
It was a heroic display from Dart, who faced an opponent ranked 76 places higher on her Fed Cup singles debut, and she so very nearly pulled it off.
Dart missed a golden chance to see off Kuzmova after holding 3 break points on her opponent’s serve when 3-2 up in the second set, then the World No 141 came back from 2-5 in the deciding set and repelled 5 match points before Kuzmova finally triumphed to put the home nation in command at the end of Day 1 in Bratislava.
The match, however, left Kuzmova so drained that she could not speak to the media afterwards.
Slovak Captain Matej Liptak hinted that she might not play on Saturday, although he has former World No 17 Magdalena Rybarikova along with Jana Cepelova to call on.
“I have other options,” he acknowledged. “Anna played really bravely and responsibly, sticking to the game plan throughout the whole match.
“If she needs to play on Saturday, and does so like she did on day one, then definitely she will bring the next point to Slovakia.
“Viki’s was a very nerve-wracking match. Maybe she wanted to win too much and that made her tense.
“She showed a lot of negative emotions on the court. She was struggling mentally but she managed to get out of it to snatch victory, and that will help her going forward.”
The Brits must now win both reverse singles matches and the doubles rubber on Saturday if they are to book their place in the finals in Budapest in April.
Great Britain returned to the World Group for the first time since 1996 last year, and are one of 8 seeded teams in the qualifiers, but without British No 1 Johanna Konta on hand, the team went into the tie as distinct underdogs.
GB Captain Anne Keothavong said: “That was incredible match from Harriet, who hasn’t even played a main draw singles event on clay before. I can only be proud of her.
“It’s not ideal to be 0-2 down, but Saturday is another day. It’s going to take a huge effort to get back in the tie.
“Heather is going to have to play better than she did against Schmiedlova, but she’s had a good look at Kuzmova – and Harriet’s done a great job tiring her out.”