Women's Sport: Team GB in good spirits as Fed Cup play-offs begin

We caught up with Harriet Dart, Katie Swan and Emma Raducanu of Team GB ahead of their Fed Cup World Group play-off against Slovakia.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding this year’s Team GB Fed Cup squad. The lack of Johanna Konta and Katie Boulter has left some doubting whether such a young squad will be able to replicate the promising performance we saw last year, considering both Konta and Boulter played such an integral part in Team GB’s 2019 cup run. 

But with Konta suffering a first-round defeat in Australia, Boulter still recovering from injury and Harriet Dart fresh from an encouraging performance against the former world No 1, it seems there’s no better time than now to debut such a young squad – and there’s this year’s Team GB are certainly up for the challenge.

Before the team flew out to Bratislava, we caught up with them at Queen’s Club in London during one of their final home training sessions.

“We’re feeling confident, we have a really good team around us – the LTA support staff has been great in creating a really supportive atmosphere,” said Emma.

“For the first few days [of training], it’s been about finding myself on the clay and switching the surface. I feel like I’m very confident in my movement on the clay and I feel great sliding on the clay,” she added.

“This year it’s definitely different because we’re playing on clay so our preparation isn’t the same as it would usually be for a hard court,” explained Harriet.

“Whether that’s certain things that we are doing in the gym or working on our movement, it’s just about adjusting as quickly as possible to the surface and building confidence with every practice.”

Team GB’s youngest member, Emma Raducanu, is only 17 years of age. She’s currently supported by the LTA’s Pro Scholarship Programme, which provides world-class coaching, medical and financial support to Britain’s elite young players with the potential to reach the top 100 within five years and she thinks it’s “inspiring” to be playing against and amongst more young women.

“It’s very inspiring to see more young players involved in the Fed Cup team. It definitely makes it feel achievable and possible for young players to breakthrough. For young girls it’s great that they can look up to the team and strive to work harder. I’m sure it’ll help girls in sport grow to feel more confident. 

“When I was younger I didn’t have one specific player who was an inspiration, I tried to take a little snippet from all the top players and build myself as a player based on that. Everyone has a strength that is very powerful but we all have our weaknesses and I want to try and take the strengths from all those top players,” explained the 17-year-old.

Women’s tennis has helped create strong, fit sportswomen, such as Serena Williams, that have gone onto become worldwide role models for younger girls and Team GB are passionate about becoming the next crop of role models for those wanting to pursue an athletic career.

“I think it’s great [to see strong sportswomen in the media]. We have a lot of depth in this year’s team despite it being a very young team and it’s a great opportunity for us to [become role models],” said Katie. 

“It’s the first time we’ve been in this position in the competition and we know that everyone is going to give their absolute best. It’s always great to know you have the support from everyone at home and that they can tune in, watch us and cheer us on from the LTA’s Facebook channel and on the BBC.”

Harriet went onto add that “there’s great strength and depth in women’s tennis at the moment.”

“It’s really exciting that a lot of us can come up and be the next crop of players coming through. With the two new members of the squad, I think we’re all ready and raring to go.” 

The LTA, who have been supporting Team GB as they lead up to their play-off against Slovakia, have been focused on pushing the participation of young girls and women in tennis – ensuring that females across the country know the benefits of tennis and how to get involved with the sport.

“Tennis is a really social sport, you can play outside or indoors and you just get to meet a lot of people,” explained Harriet.

“I can say from personal experience that I have a lot of friends that I’ve grown up playing tennis with from the age of 8 and I’m still very close with them so I think it’s a very unique and special sport for young girls to get involved with.”

17-year-old Emma emphasised that tennis can not only help your physical health but your mental as well.

“Tennis is a very independent sport and it helps to teach you a lot about yourself and gives you strength and confidence that you can take with you into any aspect of your life. 

“Tennis is a great release – you can go out on the court and just forget all your problems and have fun. I feel like it’s a great way for anyone to a healthy mind and also physically,” she said.

Katie, 20, also touched on the importance last year had in promoting the sport to younger people.

“I think growing participation in young girls is really important. Last year we did a great job, having two ties in the UK, of promoting both the Fed Cup and women’s tennis in general. Lots of young girls and boys were able to come along and support, which was great and hopefully we can continue to inspire more kids to get involved.”

GB’s Fed Cup tie against Slovakia will take place from 15:00 GMT on both Friday 7 and Saturday 8 February. You can catch the action live on Facebook via the LTA page and the BBC red button.

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