Keothavong: "These are the moments they will remember forever"

03/04/2022 16:00

Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup captain Anne Keothavong looks ahead to her team’s clash with Czech Republic and reflects on what she thinks is a key part of her role as skipper

By Ed Pearson
Keothavong: "These are the moments they will remember forever"

The life of a tennis player can be both gruelling and lonely. Travelling the world in search of ranking points and prize money looks glamourous from the outside, but hours of training and living out of hotel rooms can be isolating.

It’s little wonder, then, why players love to compete in Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas. It’s a chance for players to come together as part of a team to compete for their nation in the world cup of tennis.

And Great Britain’s captain Anne Keothavong has been in her role long enough to realise that getting results is only one aspect of her job. Something she feels is equally important is helping to create lifelong memories for all involved.

“You are always managing different personalities,” explained Keothavong, who has named a GB team consisting of US Open champion Emma Raducanu, Harriet Dart, Katie Swan and new kid on the block Sonay Kartal for the BJK Cup Qualifier against Czech Republic.

“But, for me, I always want to make it as fun and as memorable as possible, because ultimately, when they do hang up their rackets, hopefully these are the moments they will cherish and remember forever.”

Victory for the Brits on clay in Prague against the dominant force in women’s team tennis over the last decade would certainly last long in the memory banks of all involved were it to happen.

Keothavong is realistic, though, about the challenge posed by Czech Republic.

“We’re playing one of the strongest female tennis nations in the world,” she said. “They’ve won it six times in the last 11 years and they can draw upon the expertise of a number of players in the Top 100. All those players come with experience and they know what they are doing on a clay court, that’s for sure.

“So, it’s going to be a challenge for us, but I do feel optimistic. We’ve got to go into the tie believing that we have a chance. We may be the underdogs, but we do have a young team. We’ve got players who are capable of playing some fantastic tennis and they’re all up for the challenge.”

The Brits boast the youngest team of any nation competing in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers – in large part because Raducanu and Kartal are both just 19 and 20 years old respectively.

Keothavong, who cited Kartal’s recent form which includes back-to-back ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour titles in the UK as the reason for her selection, added: “Sonay and Emma actually grew up playing against each other, so I think it’s pretty cool that they are both members of the team. They have both come on a different path, but there’s no wrong or right way to go about it as long as you get there in the end.”

And with all eyes bound to be on world No. 12 Raducanu after her breakthrough at the US Open last year, Keothavong was keen to play down any expectation on a player who hasn’t ever played a professional match on clay.

“There has been a lot of noise and a lot of talk around Emma since she won the US Open, but she’s learning. It’s a process for her,” Keothavong explained.

“She’s still getting used to the attention and the expectation that’s comes with being a Grand Slam champion, but she’s a smart cookie and I have no doubt that she’ll take it all in her stride.”

And in terms of what’s at stake next weekend, should Great Britain score a victory in Prague they would book a place at the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals – something they were unable to do last time round, falling 3-1 away to Slovakia in the Qualifiers.

“It would be huge [to qualify for the finals],” said Keothavong. “It’s a competition that everyone takes a huge amount of pride in – representing Great Britain is a big deal for all the players. It’s the one team event in women’s tennis and something they all want to be part of.

“It would be absolutely fantastic were we to score a win over the Czechs. We’re going in as the underdogs, but for the moment it’s about getting the team ready and making sure they are fit and ready to go.”

Czech Republic v Great Britain will take place at the Czech Lawn Tennis Club on 15-16 April.