Jo Durie believes Britain’s Fed Cup players will be feeling extra pressure for this weekend’s play-off against Kazakhstan because of uncertainty over the future format of the competition.
Anne Keothavong’s side will attempt finally to end 26 years outside the elite level of the competition in two days of action at the Copper Box in Stratford.
It is the fifth time in the last eight years that Britain have got to this stage, with last year’s 3-2 defeat by Japan the closest they have come to escaping the notoriously difficult Europe/Africa Zone.
— LTA (@the_LTA) April 16, 2019
Victory would put Britain among the eight teams in World Group II, with another eight above them competing for the overall title.
But the International Tennis Federation is in the process of deciding in which direction to take Fed Cup, with talk of a finals week similar to the revamped Davis Cup, or at the very least a combined World Group of 16 teams.
Success this weekend is therefore likely to offer a bigger prize than in previous years.
Durie, who played in 37 ties for Britain in the 1980s and 90s, told Press Association Sport: “I think it’s going to be a very tough match and there will be a lot of pressure on our team to win this to get us into the World Group, if it does change format.”
Johanna Konta will once again lead the British team and, having won her last nine singles matches in the competition, has established herself as a formidable opponent.
British number two Katie Boulter played her first singles matches in the zonal round-robin event held in Bath in February and won all four.
Konta and Boulter’s rankings are broadly similar to those of Kazakhstan’s leading two players, world number 38 Yulia Putintseva and 107th-ranked Zarina Diyas.
“On paper it could be very close,” said Durie. “I know Putintseva’s playing quite well at the moment. She’ll be fired up, she always is, she’s always in your face and it might be even more in a team event.
“But that can also maybe work against her because it fires up whoever she’s playing. I think we should be just edging it as favourites.”
The Lawn Tennis Association’s successful bid to host the zonal matches in February meant Britain played Fed Cup ties at home for the first time since 1993.
Britain won every rubber across four matches but it was far from straightforward, with many close contests, and Konta collapsed at the end of her final victory over Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic.
Durie thinks the experience of already having played at home will stand Konta and Boulter in good stead.
She said: “It’s really great because there is a buzz and you can feel the crowd living every moment with you. Sometimes it can actually make it a little bit harder because of the expectation, you can hear it quite clearly.
“It’s fantastic to have this home tie. We should absolutely relish this. I thought the Bath event was tremendous, it worked so well. To get everybody used to playing at home and all the stuff that goes with it was perfect for us to then get a home tie.”
Britain have never won the Fed Cup but have reached the final four times, most recently in 1981, which was Durie’s first year in the team alongside Sue Barker and Virginia Wade.
“It was Sue and Virginia, who I really looked up to, and then suddenly there was I,” said Durie.
“I had to play in the first match of that week. I thought I’d just come along to go and get the water.
“I played a girl who I’d beaten before and normally would be quite confident of playing but I remember I was so nervous because both of them were watching me.
“I managed to scrape through in three sets and it was a really good experience for me. It was always an event I was proud to play in and it meant a lot.”