London | Britain poised at 1-all at the Copper Box
Team GB is poised on a knife-edge at London’s Copper Box, 1-all against Kazakhstan after letting a potential lead slip through their fingers.
Britain’s No 1 Johanna Konta fought back from a nervy set down to beat Zarina Diyas and put Great Britain 1-0 ahead in their Fed Cup World Group II play-off against the visitors.
Of course it's tough not to come through the match points and it's going to be replaying in my head for sure for a while, but I'm going to get over it and I'm going to get ready for tomorrow and bring some game. Katie Boulter
She trailed 5-1 in the first set, and fell short as she found her range and steadied her nerves, but crucially went on to win, 4-6 6-3 6-2.
If Britain come through the best-of-five rubber tie, they will earn promotion to World Group II for the first time in 26 years.
Konta told BBC Sport she hoped to feed off the home crowd’s energy before this tie, and that is exactly what she needed to do as the match went on.
The Kazakh World No 107 Diyas got off to a blistering start, bolstered by constant drumming, trumpet-playing and chants from travelling fans.
An antagonistic tune was played when Konta’s volley flew over the baseline as she fell 2-0 down in the opening set and the Briton looked distracted, glancing over at the band seconds before being broken again at 4-1 down.
Konta then fired her first ace of the match at 5-1 down, and went on to claim a comfortable service hold that seemed to spur her and the home crowd on.
She won the next three games and, despite losing the first set, raced to a commanding 5-0 lead in the second.
Diyas, who had lost just one of her 14 previous singles matches in the Fed Cup, responded with resilience of her own, clawing it back to 5-3 before holding off 5 set points.
The key moment came when Konta saved 2 break points in her opening service game of the third set, skipping off at the changeover with a fist-pump towards the crowd.
The Briton could see the finishing line and quickly raced into a 4-1 lead, before Diyas called for a medical timeout for a shoulder issue.
That small break in play did little to quieten the home crowd and Konta responded to the roars of support to break back immediately after dropping serve at 4-2.
It took her 2 hours and 38 minutes to complete the comeback and the 27-year-old said she hoped her hard-fought victory would give Boulter, 22, the freedom ‘to do what she can do’.
There was a cracking atmosphere inside the Copper Box Arena where, as promised by team captain Dias Doskarayev, the Kazakh faithful were in full voice, complete with drummers and brass instruments.
Konta admitted it took some adapting on her part in order to deal with the noisy conditions.
“Obviously tennis is quite a traditional sport in the way spectators are and in the general conditions you play in and Fed Cup is very different to that,” she said.
“While it makes it very exciting and at the end of the day enjoyable, it’s also a different situation to find yourself in and to adapt to.
“In that sense you just need to find your feet as quick as you can and adapt to the surroundings which you expect going into it because every tie I’ve played it’s been another situation.”
A man playing the trombone and trumpet attracted particular attention from the British bench, with captain Anne Keothavong appearing to be rattled by his presence.
He had an enormous repertoire and humorously punctuated gaps between points with ‘waa, waa, waaaaaa’ sounds usually reserve for cartoons, but Konta insisted she did not ask for the musician to be muted.
“No, it does shock you, though, in every Fed Cup when you first hear that drum or that trombone… it takes a bit of time to get used to.
“I was actually in two minds about it. One being that, he was bloody good. I was actually listening to him and was thinking, “sh*t, he’s really good!” so I think once I found my bearings on court I did what I try to do in every match I play – not just Fed Cup – and deal with the conditions I’m given and basically put my energy into where I feel it will be most productive.”
British No 2 Katie Boulter then faced the Kazakh No 1 Yulia Putintseva in Saturday’s second singles rubber and nearly pulled off an impressive win, but she failed to convert 3 match points as the World No 38 rode through the storm to keep Kazakhstan’s hopes alive.
Boulter is ranked 48 places lower than Putintseva at 86 in the world but she played well above that to power her way to the opening set before appearing to suffer an injury at the start of the second.
She looked down and out as she suffered with the injury, but she somehow composed herself in the decider to force a thrilling end, but could not serve it out and then missed 3 chances to clinch the contest as the feisty Kazakh roared through, 3-6 6-2 7-6(6) to level the rubbers at 1-1.
Boulter produced some exquisite tennis courtesy of her ferocious ball striking in a far more entertaining contest, but in the end her forehand misfired on too many occasions.
It looked as if she was set for defeat after taking a medical timeout in the second set but the 22-year-old remarkably recovered to almost down the Kazakhstan No 1.
She wobbled somewhat when trying to serve out the match, hitting a double fault to hand Putintseva 2 break points. The second was duly converted.
Boulter once again regained her composure to force a breaker, but she ultimately went down to the top-ranked Kazakh.
It was a bitter pill for the Brit to swallow and she sobbed at her chair being comforted by Keothavong and her teammates.
Speaking later, she said: “I am devastated, clearly. I expect her to play well on the big points, that’s why she’s ranked where she is. She’s a competitor, she’s got a great game.
“Of course it’s tough not to come through the match points and it’s going to be replaying in my head for sure for a while, but I’m going to get over it and I’m going to get ready for tomorrow and bring some game.”
On Easter Sunday, Konta will open up proceedings, taking on Putintseva before Boulter faces Diyas.
If needed, a doubles tie will decide the contest.