Johanna Konta played superbly to beat Kurumi Nara 6-4 6-2 and level the score in Great Britain’s Fed Cup World Cup Group II Play-Off with Japan.
It was an impressive display of nerve from the British No.1, who had to win the match to ensure her team retained a realistic chance of victory in the tie after Naomi Osaka overpowered Heather Watson 6-2 6-3 in the first match.
Konta started the match in ideal fashion. She signalled her intentions by hitting a huge backhand return to win the first point, followed that with an excellent forehand winner and sealed the break when Nara hit a backhand long.
The Japanese player got almost everything back in the next game, and at one stage the British No.1 hit two consecutive aces as she was forced to save three break points in order to hold serve.
Amazingly, the five break points in the opening two games were the only ones in the set. Both Konta and Nara served well and struck their groundstrokes with skill and purpose, and the score rattled along to 5-4 in Britain’s favour without any drama.
Then the nerves kicked in for the British No.1. She breezed to 40-15 on her serve, but double faulted and hit a backhand long to let her Japanese opponent back into the game.
Konta earned two more set points with big serves and powerful backhands, and took the second after a forehand from Nara went just wide.
Despite its more emphatic scoreline, the second set was closely fought and the British No.1 had to draw on all her qualities to win it.
Konta came out on top in a seemingly endless stream of long rallies to break twice in the first three games after they all went to deuce.
However, Nara turned the tables in game four by breaking back during another tight game. She then held serve to put the British No.1 under pressure.
At this stage of the match, Konta found another gear. She held serve comfortably and then hit a series of superb backhands to regain the double break, before holding again with ease to close out the match.
“(Nara) definitely used the energy of the crowd,” said Konta in her on-court interview. “She made it really hard for me out there.”
The Brit continued, “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy match and that I was going to have to earn my way to get an opportunity to come through as the winner today.”
Great Britain Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong was understandably pleased with Konta’s performance.
“Jo put in a fantastic performance,” she said in her on-court interview. “She kept a high level. I thought her opponent was also able to raise her level, but Jo was just too good.”
Osaka overpowers Watson
Osaka produced an excellent performance to beat Watson in straight sets. The Japanese used all her power to hit several huge serves and plenty of spectacular groundstrokes.
The British No.2 initially coped well. She used her defensive abilities to great effect to make Osaka play extra balls and almost earned a break in game three. However, the Japanese saved the break point with an ace.
The Brit made life difficult for herself in game four when she made two errors and a double fault to slip down 0-40. She recovered to 30-40, but Osaka hammered a forehand winner down the line to seal the break.
And the Japanese No.1 never looked back. She blazed through her next two service games in the blink of an eye to lead 5-2, and then Watson double-faulted twice to give her the game she needed to seal the set.
The British No.2 made a good start to the first game of the second set and earned two break points, but Osaka did not give her any chance to capitalise on them as she thundered down two aces and another huge serve to set up the hold.
Watson saved two break points in the next game with some well-judged aggression and an excellent forehand winner, but it was only a temporary respite.
The Brit was unable to cope with Osaka’s powerful groundstrokes and, although she fought hard during a long game, the Japanese eventually got the break she wanted with three fantastic winners in succession.
Watson kept it to one break and threw everything she had at Osaka as she tried to break the Japanese No.1 when she was serving for the match.
But ultimately it was not enough, as Osaka saved two break points with brilliant backhand winners before taking her second match point when the British No.2 netted a forehand.
“I was really relieved I was able to win because this is my first Fed Cup tie here,” said Osaka in her on-court interview. “I really wanted to win and make everyone happy.”
Leylah Fernandez wins Billie Jean King Heart Award
The Canadian was recognized by the fans for her part in Canada beating Serbia in the play-off tie last month.
Leylah Fernandez has been named the winner of the Billie Jean King Heart award voted on by the fans of the game. She played an integral part in Canada beating Serbia 4-0 in the playoff tie last month.
18-year-old Fernandez was involved in a poll with Elina Svitolina, Katie Boulter and Magdalena French. The award comes with $3000 which she donated to her favourite charity Table de Concertation en Securite Alimentaire de Villeray in Montreal.
” I was surprised, there were so many great players who were nominated and showed a lot of heart during the competition so I didn’t expect much from my part but I’m happy the fans voted and that I was given this opportunity to show what we are made of so I am excited,” said Fernandez.
ITF president David Haggerty commented on her award saying “Congratulations to Leylah Fernandez for her great performance at the Billie Jean King playoff in April and for being voted the recipient of the Bille Jean King Heart Award. It’s extra special to be voted by the fans and recognized for showing great courage and commitment to your team”.
Heidi El Tabakh the Billie Jean King Cup captain for Canada also reacted to Fernandez winning the award.
” I am so happy and extremely proud of Leylah (Fernandez) for winning the Billie Jean King Heart Award. It was well deserved following a spectacular performance in Serbia which she worked so hard for,” she said.
“Leylah is a fighter on the court, she always represents Canada with pride and is an incredible teammate for her fellow teammates. She is very worthy of this award”.
This is the 12th year the award has been given and it recognizes players who have represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on the court, and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during the Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas.
So far the the award winners have donated over $200,000 to charities across the world.
Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics
After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.
Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics.
The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events.
Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.
“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”
The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.
“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”
In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).
Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.
“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”
Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.
The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th.
Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade
A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.
The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.
UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.
“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”
When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.
The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.
This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.
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