Great Britain missed their chance to qualify for the Fed Cup World Group for the first time since 1993 as they lost their Play-Off 3-2 to Japan.
It was 1-1 going into the second day, and the scores stayed level after Johanna Konta beat Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-3 and Kurumi Nara defeated Heather Watson 7-6(7) 6-4.
Konta and Watson then lost the deciding doubles 6-3 3-6 3-6 to Miyu Kato and Makoto Ninomiya to ensure their long wait to return to the elite 16 of the Fed Cup goes on.
“We are gutted about the result. One day our opportunity will come,” Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong told BBC Sport.
“If you keep knocking on the door, it will eventually open. It wasn’t to be this year but who is to say it won’t be next year?”
“We have to recognise the effort we have put in the last two years getting out of the zone,” Konta added. “People underestimate the task it is to get out of that Euro-Africa group.”
“Some of the best nations are in that group, when you look at the depth of the other zonal groups around the world. I’m very proud of the fact we keep putting ourselves in this position.”
Britain started the day in fine style as Konta produced a stunning display to beat Indian Wells champion Osaka in straight sets.
The 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist struck the ball accurately and aggressively and remained rock-solid on her serve throughout as she won 74% of points on her first serve and 59% behind her second.
This ensured Konta only faced two break points in the match. It also enabled her to swing freely against Osaka’s serve, and in game seven she did exactly that.
After the Japanese double-faulted, the Briton crunched a forehand to draw an error. She then twice pinned Osaka behind the baseline with a series of very deep groundstrokes to earn break point and seal the break.
It was a crucial moment for Konta, and she rode a wave of momentum for the rest of the match. She broke the Japanese again in game nine to finish the first set, and maintained her intensity in the second set to take it 6-3.
Unfortunately for Britain, Watson was unable to capitalise on her teammate’s excellent win as she lost to Nara in disappointing fashion.
It was comfortably the lowest-quality match of the tie as neither player was able to exert any kind of control on their serve.
After Watson and Nara both broke twice in the opening seven games, the Briton earned a chance to serve for the set by getting a third break in game eight.
However, Watson has lost nine of her last 11 matches and her lack of confidence showed as she played the game very poorly to lose her serve to love.
The Briton’s failure to close out the set led to a tie-break, and she seemed determined to put her troubles behind as she hit a couple of excellent winners en route to a 6-3 lead.
But the good times did not last as Watson was unable to take any of her three set points and ultimately lost the tie-break 9-7.
She looked understandably dejected by that outcome and rapidly fell 3-0 behind in the second set. The Briton recovered well to level the score, but once again she failed to take advantage of the momentum.
Watson made a sloppy error and a double-fault to gift Nara two break points in game eight. She saved one with a big serve, but surrendered the second with a poor backhand that went wide.
Nara’s nerves defeated her and she handed the Briton a two break points and a lifeline in the match. Watson grabbed the second with a brilliant backhand into the corner.
But there was one last cruel twist left as Nara played good, aggressive tennis to break the British No.2 for the sixth time in the match and clinch a vital win for Japan.
That put all of the pressure on the final doubles rubber, and the greater doubles experience of Kato and Ninomiya made all the difference in the end as they fought back from a set down to win.
Konta and Watson produced some excellent tennis to come back from 0-2 and win the first set 6-3. The higher-ranked Briton served well and her partner looked sharp at the net.
However, Konta and Watson made a terrible start to the second set and slipped down 5-0. The British pair got one break back but the damage had been done and the confidence of the Japanese pair rose steadily as they took the second set 6-3.
The deciding set was close and went with serve for the first six games. However, Kato and Ninomiya nearly gained the advantage in game five when they earned four break points.
They did not manage to break through on that occasion, but Konta and Watson should have heeded the warning as they went on to lose their next two service games and, consequently, the match and the tie.
Sorana Cirstea Announces Fed Cup Retirement, WTA Stars Prepare For 2019
Sorana Cirstea announces her Fed Cup retirement as WTA stars prepare for the 2019 season.
World number 85 Sorana Cirstea has announced her retirement from Fed Cup after competing in the competition for 12 years.
The Romanian first made her debut when she was just 16 years old when she competed against Sweden in Zone Group I Europe/Africa.
Since then Cirstea has won 16 of her 29 Fed Cup rubbers but has now announced that it is time to move on and wishes the team the best of luck for the future.
“I feel like I have done my duty. And now is the time to pass the relay baton onto the new generation,” Cirstea said on her Facebook page.
“I would like to thank my teammates, the Federation, the captains, the coaches and everyone who was involved in our success, and especially the Romanian crowd that has been supporting me over the years.”
The 28 year-old will look to now improve her ranking after a disappointing 2018 season which included a 17-25 win-loss record.
WTA Starts Prepare For 2019
Meanwhile other WTA players have been preparing for the new season, which officially begins in 16 days. Here is some of the best action from the off-season so far:
The Dane decided to use her off-season to improve her tennis with a certain 23 time grand slam champion:
The Belarusian rising star had an amazing 2018 season and is using unique training methods to improve further next season:
Despite an underwhelming 2018 season, the Spaniard has been practicing in California to get ready for the 2019 season:
Practice is perfect in Julia Goerges’ case as she looks to expand on her Wimbledon semi-final:
The US Open champion is getting ready for the new season in Los Angeles as she looks to gain even more fans in 2019:
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Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks with John Horn about the Canadian rising star.
Last week saw Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas add to his title collection at the Next Gen Finals in Milan, but one notable absentee from the tournament was Denis Shapovalov.
The 19-year-old is the youngest player inside the world’s top 100 at 27th and the fourth highest ranked among the Next Generation. A group of upcoming players under the age of 21. Shapovalov opted to end his season early due to exhaustion. Ubitennis analyses Shapovalov’s decision and looks ahead to what the future could have in store for him.
Katerina Siniakova saves two match points to secure the 11th Fed Cup title for
Katerina Siniakova secured the decivive 3-0 point to earn Czech Republic its 11th Fed Cup title and its 6th triumph in the past eight seasons at this event since 2011. Siniakova had to save two match point at 4-5 in the third set to beat US Sofia Kenin 7-5 5-7 7-5 in the third singles match to the delight of the enthusiastic Czech fans, who packed the O2 Arena in Prague.
Siniakova scored her second singles win this weekend after beating Alison Riske on Saturday.
Siniakova converted her first break chance and went up a double break early in the first set. Kenin got back on serve at 1-2 in a 10-minute game before breaking again in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. Sinakova bounced back by breaking serve once more. Kenin converted on her break point at deuce at 3-5 down before drawing level to 5-5. Siniakova reeled off five consecutive games to build up a 7-5 3-0 lead, but Kenin came back from 15-40 down to win her first game of the second set. The US teenager broke twice in a row in the fifth and seventh games. Siniakova pulled the break back for 4-5 with a series of backhand winners. Kerer broke again at love in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead before sealing the second set on the fourth set point.
Siniakova saved three break points in the first game of the decider before breaking serve on her second chance. The Czech player consolidated the break with a hold to build up a 3-0 lead.
Siniakova fended off four break points to hold serve for 4-1 in a 19-minute marathon fifth game. Kenin fought back by winning four consecutive games thanks to two consecutive breaks in the seventh and ninth games to take a 5-4 lead, but she fired the ball beyond the baseline twice from 40-15 and failed to convert her two match points. Siniakova reeled off six points in a row from 0-40 down at 5-5. Siniakova got the final break of the match in the 12th game to seal a thrilling win after 3 hours and 44 minutes, when Kenin sent her forehand into the tramlines. The Czech team celebrated the fourth of their six titles since 2011 at the O2 Arena in Prague.
Siniakova scored the third win in four singles Fed Cup rubbers. She hit 4 aces and won 56 percent of her first serve points. Kenin hit 42 winners but she made 76 unforced errors.
Czech Republic ended a 8-match losing streak against the USA at Fed Cup level.
Petr Pala has won his sixth title as captain of the Czech Fed Cup team. He boasts an impressive 24-4 win-loss record in the 28 Fed Cup matches where he took charge of the Czech team.
The US team captained by Kathy Rinaldi did not defend their title won in 2017, but they featured a young team with three players Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin and Nicole Melichar, who made their debut at this event this weekend.
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