Team GB are tied at 1-1 against hosts Japan after the opening day’s play at the Play-Off for a place in 2019 World Group II Fed Cup being played at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Miki (north of Kobe) in Japan. The winning nation will be promoted to the World Group II in 2019.
Today she was just way too good. She has improved a lot since I last played her. You can tell she’s confident at the moment as she hit a great shot every time when she was behind in a game Heather Watson
In the opening rubber Heather Watson, Britain’s No.2, fell to Naomi Osaka, the youngster who, a few weeks ago, won the Indian Wells title, 6-2 6-3. Watson, who hasn’t had the best of seasons this year, was outgunned by the Japanese No.1 who was in control from the third game when she staved off three break points with massive serves, to go on and break her opponent twice to take the first set.
It was a similar story in the second as Osaka broke again in the fourth game after Watson had a point for 2-all. The Japanese hit two aces in a row to capture the eighth game and despite facing two break points when serving for the match (both erased with backhand winners), Osaka put Japan ahead after 77-minutes of play.
“I felt in the second set I had more rhythm and got a better read on the ball but Naomi was flawless. I was hoping for a few errors from her. Every time I had a small chance she would hit an ace or a winner.” Osaka in fact hit 11 aces during the match.
“Today she was just way too good. She has improved a lot since I last played her. You can tell she’s confident at the moment as she hit a great shot every time when she was behind in a game.
“My strategy was to get as many returns in play as possible. She hit a lot of aces today and there was nothing to do. On this fast court it was hard to make her move more as the points were so quick. The crowd was very fair and it was a great atmosphere to play in,” the vanquished Briton said.
Johanna Konta however, brought the visitors back into the tie, as she proved too strong for Japan’s No.2 Kurumi Nara as she wept to a 6-4 6-2 victory after 85-mminutes.
A break of serve in the first game of each set proved the deciding factor and despite Nara breaking back once from 0-3 to 2-3 in the second set, Konta was not to be denied. Each time she was threatened, Britain’s No.1 stepped up with some resilient play, such as saving three break points in her very first service game, serving three aces or hanging tough in the 10th game of the first set, finally coming through on her fourth set point.
Konta admitted, “I knew going in it was going to be tough. Kurumi used the inspiration from the crowd very well and overall, she played at a very high level. I’m pleased to have come through that one and put us as 1-1 at the end of the day.
“Tomorrow’s match (when she faces her counterpart Osako in the reverse singles) will be a big challenge. My goal will be to compete hard and ask a lot of questions of Naomi. I’ve played her twice, know what to expect but tomorrow will be new match so I will focus on my performance and what I can control.”
Captain Anne Keothavong commented at the end of day one’s play, “Tomorrow will definitely be a case of who can produce the best on the day. Osaka played some very strong tennis against Heather, who had a handful of chances. As Jo said, Nara brought a very high level to the court but Jo was just too strong on the big points and executed her game plan. This is a competition that means a lot to us and we want to do really well. We have lost at this stage three times since 2012 so we will be very eager tomorrow.”