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Fed Cup: Britain’s Harriet Dart ready to step up for qualifier

There are two debutants in the Great Britain squad who travel to Bratislava for their Fed Cup qualifier
Fed Cup: Slovakia v Great Britain
Venue: AXA Arena NTC Bratislava, Slovakia Dates: 7-8 February (15:00 GMT) Surface: Clay
Coverage: BBC Red Button stream and online; live text coverage on the BBC Sport website.

British number three Harriet Dart says it is her “time to step up” as Great Britain chase a place in the Fed Cup finals without top-ranked player Johanna Konta.

Dart, 23, is part of the British squad who face Slovakia in a qualifier in Bratislava on Friday and Saturday.

The winner will join 11 other nations at the new Fed Cup Finals, taking place in Budapest on 14-19 April.

World number 14 Konta has opted to sit out the Fed Cup to protect her body.

The British team will also be without former British number two Katie Boulter, who was sidelined for six months with a back injury sustained in the play-off victory over Kazakhstan in April.

Heather Watson, 74th in the world, is the highest ranked player in the British squad and is set to play in the singles rubbers alongside Dart, who has only ever played two Fed Cup doubles matches.

“I’ve been able to implement a lot of what I am practising in my matches and results have shown that,” Dart told BBC Sport.

“I’ve been putting myself in a position where I am able to play against the best players in the world on the biggest stages – I think that gives me extra confidence that I am on the right path. It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us here.”

How will the tie be played?

Three of the team who were victorious in April’s play-off had not even been born the last time GB were in the Fed Cup World Group

Britain’s play-off victory over Kazakhstan in April saw them return to the World Group for the first time since 1996.

They are among eight seeded nations in the qualifiers, which is a best-of-five format.

Two singles rubbers will be played on Friday and the reverse singles rubbers and a doubles match take place on Saturday.

The rubbers are best-of-three tie-break sets and will be played on a clay court under a mobile roof at the AXA Arena in Bratislava.

Who’s in the British squad?

Naiktha Bains (right) and Emma Raducanu (left) are set to make their Fed Cup debut in the doubles rubber

British captain Anne Keothavong has called up Naiktha Bains, 22, and Emma Raducanu, 17, for the first time but is sure they “will rise to the big occasion”.

Watson is the only British player ranked inside the top 100 but Dart reached the third round at Wimbledon for the first time in 2019 before losing to world number one Ashleigh Barty and also took on fourth seed Simona Halep in the second round of the Australian Open last month.

Swan, 20, played alongside Dart in the Fed Cup doubles back in April.

“We’ll definitely take some experience from Heather,” said Dart. “She has played a lot of Fed Cup ties. She is used to situations and a lot of us are quite new.

“Obviously tennis is an individual sport. All year it’s about yourself whereas here it’s different – it’s about coming together and being able to feed off each other and bring the best out of each other.”

Watson faces Anna Schmiedlova, ranked 199, in Friday’s opening singles rubber before Dart takes on Slovakian number one Viktoria Kuzmova.

Debutants Bains and Raducanu play Kuzmova and Magdalena Rybarikova in Saturday’s doubles.

Slovakia’s team and singles ranking Great Britain’s team and singles ranking
Viktoria Kuzmova – 65 Heather Watson – 74
Jana Cepelova – 161 Harriet Dart – 141
Magdalena Rybarikova – 172 Naiktha Bains – 217
Anna Schmiedlova – 199 Katie Swan – 257
Rebecca Sramkova – 202 Emma Raducanu – 363

How does the new Fed Cup format work?

A brand new 12-team Fed Cup Finals will take place on clay in Budapest, Hungary this year, involving 20 teams.

The eight winners of this week’s qualifying ties will join 2019 finalists Australia and France, hosts Hungary and one wildcard nation.

There is an $18m (£14.2m) prize fund up for grabs and of that, $12m (£9.5m) will go to the players, and the other $6m (£4.75m) to their national associations.

Under the previous format, the champions needed to negotiate three home or away ties. Now they play no more than one.

The Laszlo Papp Budapest Sports Arena will host the finals until 2022 and there will be four groups of three teams, with the winners of each group progressing to the semi-finals.

The Davis Cup – the men’s equivalent team competition – has also undergone significant reform. In November, 18 teams competed for the title and $20m (£15.8m) of prize money in the inaugural finals in Madrid.

Dart says it would be “really cool” to run the new Fed Cup format alongside the men’s Davis Cup and hopes to get more exposure.

“The new format is quite exciting – it’s a bit similar to the Davis Cup,” she said.

“The game is constantly evolving and you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but I think it could be a really cool thing to run the Davis Cup alongside the Fed Cup. However, it’s pretty hard to get the schedules aligned.”

Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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