Johanna Konta fought back from a set down to beat Maria Sakkari 3-6 6-2 6-3 and give Great Britain an unassailable 2-0 lead against Greece.
The Brit, 27, looked to be the weaker player in the opening set against the rising star from Athens, who struck the ball cleanly and took her chances well.
However, the World No.39 is an experienced Fed Cup campaigner by now, and she turned the match around very impressively to get the win for her team.
‘I don’t think there’s much better than that – in this kind of arena, in front of this kind of support,’ Konta told fedcup.com. ‘I’ve played on all the centre courts at all the Grand Slams but this is definitely what you look for in a match.’
‘You look for a competitive match against a really great player, you look for it to go the wire and you look to be in front of a crowd that are so behind you and so invested in the match and who are living it with you. It was a complete pleasure to be out on court.’
Konta shows her grit
Early in the second set, the Brit’s prospects looked bleak as she immediately went down a break and seemed a little disconsolate.
But if Konta was feeling pessimistic, she shrugged off those negative thoughts quickly and battled her way back into the set.
The 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist broke Sakkari twice in a row to move 4-1 ahead. She then almost won her fifth consecutive when she had four break points on the Greek’s serve.
However, the World No.39 hung on, despite a disagreement with the umpire, and managed to put Konta under pressure in game seven.
The Brit held firm, and then broke Sakkari again to take the set 6-2 and send the home crowd into raptures.
Both players gave it everything they had in the decider and the first five games took over 20 minutes to complete. But then Konta took charge as she broke the Greek and quickly finished off the set 6-3.
Boulter digs in to secure important victory
Katie Boulter was also given a tough test by Valentini Grammatikopoulou in the opening singles rubber of the tie as she recovered after losing the second set to win 6-3 4-6 6-3.
The British No.2 made an excellent start to the match. She broke immediately and served well to win it comfortably in just 34 minutes.
However, the Greek produced an inspired fightback in the second set and it soon became apparent that Boulter had a real match on her hands.
When Grammatikopoulou went 2-0 up in the decider, the situation looked dire for the Brit. But she never gave up, and soon earned a couple of break points in game four.
The World No.171 saved them both, along with two more, before Boulter eventually took the fifth to level the match. She then ground out a hold to move 3-2 ahead.
Unfortunately, her delight was somewhat marred by an unsavoury row involving Grammatikopoulou, Greece Captain Anastasios Bavelas and the umpire about what the player believed were ‘unfair’ line calls.
‘This umpire was not so good so I’m really disappointed in that in Fed Cup,’ Grammatikopoulou told the Daily Mail. ‘It’s really unfair to play like this.’
Now the momentum was with Boulter. She used it well to break the Greek again in the sixth game, and then held her nerve to secure two holds and seal a vital win.
The doubles had a tough task to try and live up to those dramatic singles matches, but Katie Swan and Harriet Dart performed impressively again to beat Anna Arkadianou and Despina Papamichail 6-1 6-4.
Hungary beat Slovenia to go second
In the other Pool A tie, Hungary eased to a 3-0 win over Slovenia to set up a shoot-out for top spot with Great Britain on Friday evening.
Dalma Galfi gave her team the perfect start with a 6-1 6-4 thrashing of Kaja Juvan, Anna Bondar backed that result up with an impressive 4-6 6-1 6-4 defeat of Dalila Jakupovic and Reka-Luca Jani and Adrienn Nagy completed the whitewash by beating Nina Potocnik and Nika Radisic 7-6(3) 4-6 6-2 in the doubles.
Croatia overcome Georgia despite resting star player Vekic
Croatia beat Georgia 2-1 to set up a Pool B decider with Serbia, but they almost paid for their decision to allow their best player Donna Vekic to sit out the tie and rest.
The tie started well for Croatia as Ana Konjuh beat Mariam Bolkvadze 6-4 6-3. But then Jana Fett took Vekic’s place and lost a marathon match 4-6 6-3 7-5 to Ekaterine Gorgodze.
Consequently, the Croatians asked Konjuh to join Daria Jurak for the deciding doubles. However, it did not look good for them when they fell 3-1 behind to Gorgodze and Oksana Kalashnikova.
To their immense relief, Konjuh and Jurak found their form and levelled the set at 5-5. Then Konjuh turned on the style as she hit a series of thunderous winners and excellent touch shots around the net to help her team win eight of the next nine games and close out the match 7-5 6-1.
In the other Pool B tie, Serbia thrashed Turkey 3-0. Ivana Jorovic beat Cagla Buyukakcay 6-2 6-3, Aleksandra Krunic edged out Pemra Ozgen 3-6 6-4 6-2 and Krunic and Olga Danilovic eased to a 6-2 6-3 win over Berfu Cengiz and Ipek Soylu in the doubles.
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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