The first of 3 Premier WTA Tour events in a row kicked off in Russia on Monday, and sees the return of Johanna Konta, wild-carded into the tournament as the No 4 seed.
Ultimately, the main thing was to start playing again, and I am. And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year. Johanna Konta
Having hit the exit door at the Australian Open after the first obstacle, beaten by Ons Jabeur 6-4 6-2 in 63 minutes, Konta opted out of Fed Cup duty at the weekend, effectively sending Team GB into the Play-Offs.
After a glorious run last year saw them reach the World Group for the first time since 1996, Great Britain needed to clear one final hurdle in Bratislava to qualify for the Fed Cup Finals in Budapest in April but fell 3-1 to Slovakia in Bratislava.
Konta had been sidelined since the US Open last year with a knee injury, but felt good on the court in Melbourne in terms of fitness.
“Ultimately, the main thing was to start playing again, and I am,” Konta said. “And how I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September of last year.
“I knew that by making a decision to come to play here, I was opening myself up to potentially it not going well, but what was good today was my knee felt quite good.”
Konta is pacing herself this year with a firm eye on the Olympics, but Anne Keothavong, the captain of Great Britain’s Fed Cup team, will, no doubt, be trying to persuade her to change her mind about leading the team in the Play-Offs, but holds out little hope.
“She made clear to me what her plans were for this year and knowing Jo the way I do, once she makes a decision about something she sticks to it,” Keothavong said.
“For her the Olympics are really important and also at this stage of her career scheduling is important and trying to peak at the right times. You have to respect that.”
Meanwhile, the top 4 seeds have all received byes in St Petersburg so Belinda Bencic (1), Kiki Bertens (2), Petra Kvitova (3) and Konta (40 can all expect to play on Wednesday.
An early winner was Greece’s 6th-seeded Maria Sakkari, who played on Monday and struggled for 2 hours and 38 minutes to get past Russian qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko, 3-6 6-4 7-6(3).
On Tuesday, Alison Van Uytvanck from the Netherlands defeated former champion France’s Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4 6-1, to set up a meeting with Kvitova, while Konta will take on another Frenchwoman, qualifier Oceane Dodin, who dispatched Viktoria Kusmova from Slovakia, 6-2 6-2, on Wednesday.