GB favourites in BJK Cup tie for ‘first time in long time’

Venue: Copper Box Arena, London Dates: 11-12 November.
Coverage: Streaming and live text coverage across BBC Sport website, app and iPlayer

Captain Anne Keothavong says Great Britain cannot underestimate Sweden in the Billie Jean King Cup play-offs despite being the heavy favourites.

Britain are absent from the ongoing Finals in Seville following their 3-1 loss to France in April’s qualifiers.

They will face Sweden at London’s Copper Box Arena in a best-of-five series across Saturday and Sunday.

The winner will progress to next year’s qualifiers, while the loser will drop into lower tier regional events.

“I feel like it’s the first time in a long time we go into this tie as favourites, but this competition can mess with people’s heads and people deal with pressure in different ways, ” Keothavong told BBC Sport.

“This time next year, I’d love for us to be competing in the Finals again and I don’t see any reason why we can’t get there, but we have to take the steps required. We can’t be complacent.”

‘It’s no hardship to put on your team colours’

Keothavong has selected the four highest ranked British singles players – Katie Boulter, Jodie Burrage, Harriet Dart and Heather Watson – along with doubles number one Maia Lumsden.

Britain are ranked 14 places higher than the Swedish team, whose chances of of promotion to the top tier of the team event have been dented by injuries to their two highest-ranked players – world number 103 Rebecca Peterson and Mirjam Bjorklund, ranked 163rd.

Johanna Larsson’s side will be represented by four players who are all ranked outside the world’s top 350 – Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, Caijsa Hennemann, Lisa Zaar, and Bella Bergkvist Larsson.

Boulter became Emma Raducanu’s successor as British number one in May, with 2021 US Open champion Raducanu missing the majority of the season through injury.

Having claimed her first WTA Tour title at Nottingham in June and reaching the third round at both Wimbledon and the US Open, Boulter achieved a career-high ranking of 50 in September and Keothavong says she “thrives” as British number one.

Burrage, too, has enjoyed a career-best season and would have enjoyed a spell as British number one had she defeated Boulter in the final of the Nottingham Open – her maiden WTA final.

Lumsden – “the quietest member on the team”, according to Keothavong – has made her mark in doubles.

In July, the 25-year-old Scot and Naiktha Bains became the first British women’s doubles pair to reach the quarter-finals of Wimbledon since 1983.

While Burrage and Lumsden could make their Billie Jean King Cup debuts, “stalwart” Heather Watson could play her 36th tie in the women’s team event.

Keothavong said last year’s run to the semi-finals showed the experienced Watson and Dart, who won her first ITF-level title since 2018 this year, are able to “rise to the occasion when needed”.

Despite the tournament arriving at the end of a long season, Keothavong is not worried about her team’s motivation levels.

“It’s no hardship for them to put their team colours on and go out there and play and work together and enjoy each other’s company,” she said.

“The fact that we have this opportunity to play on home soil in front of pretty much near sell-out crowd – if that doesn’t get you going then I’m not sure what else does.”

British tennis’ governing body the LTA is expecting a full house with Saturday’s 5,560 tickets sold out, while there are only a limited number of tickets available for Sunday’s action.

‘Something I could only dream of’

Team GB Katie Boulter, Katie Swan, Johanna Konta, Harriet Dart, Heather Watson and captain Anne Keothavong

The Copper Box Arena is a venue that holds fond memories for the British side.

It is where they ended a 26-year wait for promotion to the world tier of the Billie Jean King Cup with a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan in 2019.

And for Keothavong, captaining her side at the Copper Box Arena is particularly “special” having grown up in nearby Hackney.

“It’s hard to really articulate or explain that to others who didn’t grow up in this area knowing what this place looked like as a kid and how it’s transformed,” the 40-year-old said.

“To be able to bring tennis, live tennis, high quality women’s tennis to this part of London is just something as a child I could have only dreamt of.”

Former British number one Keothavong is determined not to slip back into the lower regional tier, especially after Great Britain reached the last four of the Finals in Glasgow last year.

“What we did in Glasgow last year certainly put everyone on the radar as a team,” she said.

“The team spirit, the way we gelled, the way the players were able to rise to the occasion I think stood out and surprised a lot of people, so expectations are high.

“We know we can compete with the very best. We’ve just got to take the steps to get there again.”

What is the format?

SATURDAY (FROM 14:00 GMT) - Burrage v Rinaldo Persson, Boulter v Hennemann. SUNDAY (FROM 12:00 GMT) - Boulter v Rinaldo Persson, Burrage v Hennemann, Dart & Watson v Zaar & Bergkvist Larsson

Britain’s tie with Sweden is one of eight play-off ties taking place, with the winners advancing to the qualifying round for the 2024 Finals and the losers dropping into the regional Group I stage – the level below the top world tier of the competition.

Each play-off tie is a best-of-five series – with four singles matches followed by a deciding doubles match if needed.

How to watch the Billie Jean King Cup play-offs

All of Great Britain’s matches against Sweden will be streamed on the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website from 14:00 GMT on Saturday and 12:00 GMT on Sunday.

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