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Tour report - GB through to Fed Cup World Group II play-off

by Alexandra Willis
Monday 11 February 2013

Judy Murray's GB Fed Cup team made it four wins out of four at the Europe / Africa Zone Group I zonal tie in Eilat, Israel, advancing to the April play-offs for the chance to reach World Group II.

The team, who were narrowly denied by Sweden in last year's April play-offs, blistered past Bosnia, Austria, Portugal and Bulgaria to give Team GB the chance of a first home Fed Cup tie since 1993. 

"We will all be waiting nervously for the draw on Wednesday because we're absolutely desperate to have a home tie - Britain's first for 20 years," Judy Murray wrote in her column on BBC Sport.

"Whoever we get, it would be fantastic to play in front of the home fans and use the occasion to promote the team and showcase our sport. This is the one event when the whole country can get behind the British women and, after getting so close last year, we're determined to finish the job this time."

The team, comprised of Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong and Johanna Konta, with Elena Baltacha also among the merry band of Brits, put on a comprehensive show in Eilat, forced to win the deciding doubles rubber just once, against Austria. 

Watson, the world No.41 who was playing as GB's No.1 for the first time in Fed Cup, produced her most impressive win of the week to clinch GB's spot in the April play-offs, rallying from behind to beat world No.44 Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria. Robson, the world No.45, went unbeaten in singles throughout the week, Anne Keothavong, a Fed Cup stalwart for Team GB, added a point of her own in singles on the opening day, and rookie Jo Konta made her debut with two doubles appearances. 

"We have two players ranked around 40 in the world in Heather Watson and Laura Robson - they've made huge strides forward in the last 12 months and, although they're young and inexperienced in terms of the Fed Cup, they're playing at a high level," Murray said. "And it's not just those two as we have strong back-up in terms of Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, who have nearly 80 Fed Cup ties between them, along with newcomer Johanna Konta, who is 21, made her debut in Israel and is very much on the way up.

"So we now have five players, and you need that because there's nothing worse than having one star player who can then get injured. That strength in depth will be vital in April, and in the World Group if we make it through, because it's quite a different format. Rather than the two singles and one doubles format in the Euro/Africa Group, in the play-off or World Group you have four singles and a doubles across two days. The strength of the team, and of your number two player in particular, really comes into play."

GB will discover both their opponent and the location of the play-off tie on Wednesday. 

In the competition's World Group I, the Czech Republic beat Australia 4-0, Italy beat the USA 3-2, Russia beat Japan 3-2, and the Slovak Republic beat Serbia 3-2. 

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Elsewhere on the tour, Rafael Nadal was determined to take the positives out of his return to competitive action after eight months on the sidelines, even if his comeback week in Vina del Mar, Chile, did not end with a trophy. Nadal looked to be on course to win his 41st final on a clay court against Horacio Zeballos. But in a surprise turn of events, the world No.79 out-muscled Nadal to win his first career title, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, and become only the third player to beat Nadal in a clay court final.

“A week ago we didn't know how the body would respond,” Nadal said. “[Now] at least I know we can compete at a certain level. I think that was a positive week… I will try to keep improving my physical sensations day by day, which is the most important thing because I don't feel that my tennis level is bad. I need more time on court.

"The knee is still bothering me, but you have to face adversity with the best possible face and look forward to keep working and enjoy what I like the most, to play tennis."

"The tennis is important, but for me the best thing was to have the feelings I've had this week, with a full stadium and one of the best crowds I've ever had in my life. It's a place I won't forget because of the love people gave me.

"I was two points away from winning the title, but I said from first day that the result was not the most important thing, although I would've liked to win. My opponent won, he deserved it and I congratulate him. Still, to win four matches in a row is good news for me."

Zeballos meanwhile, whose form at the end of the final bore similarities to the way Lukas Rosol out-hit Nadal in his last competitive outing at Wimbledon last year, could hardly contain his delight, and was in tears as he received his first trophy. 

"I tried to aim at all the lines and make all of them," Zeballos laughed. "I also think I was a little lucky. I had never imagined being able to win a title or defeating the best clay court player in history."

There were also titles for Richard Gasquet, who defeated Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-3 in Montpellier, while Marin Cilic became the first player to win three titles in Zagreb, defeating Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-1. 

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This week sees the tour's top women, including Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, return to action for the first time since the Australian Open in Doha, while the ATP are in San Jose, San Paulo and Rotterdam


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