Britain's top women players secured a fantastic victory in the Fed Cup last week and success was all the sweeter for being watched by a home crowd in Bath. Local Tennis Leagues and several of its players were there to savour the action
Centre court at the University of Bath’s sports training village is not a big venue. With steeply raked seats along two sides of the court, it is small and intimate and when we were there on Saturday for the final round of Fed Cup matches, between GB and Serbia, the amount of emotion it had to contain made it thrillingly intense.
Above, Clare Balding tells the nation after Katie Boulter's win on Saturday
You could see the sweat and feel the effort as Katie Boulter played her heart out, winning the first of what could be the final two matches. Then it was Jo Konta's turn. After a great start, she almost succumbed to mental and physical fatigue, but pulled herself back from the brink to win the final match. This was sport as the best kind of theatre.
"I had never been to a Cup Fed or Davis Cup event before so this was a whole new experience,” says Jane Devonald, who plays in the Wimbledon Park Tennis League and who we ran into in the morning between matches. “There was incredible crowd support for GB, it was a wonderful friendly venue and this was some of the most incredible women’s tennis I have seen in a long time.”
In the late afternoon, for the crucial final round of matches, the venue was packed. The audience seemed to have sprouted what looked like big green triffids – in reality long sausage-shaped balloons which, when banged together, created a nation-rallying din. This was the first time the UK has staged a home Fed Cup tie in 26 years and how right Britain was to lobby for it.
"It's not always easy to get tickets to top quality tennis at an affordable price so this provided a really good way for the whole family to watch together,” said Adam Burgis (pictured left with his wife Rachel), who is currently playing in our brand new AELTC Community Sports Ground League.
“The atmosphere was fantastic and made it much more appealing to my two daughters (aged 10 and 14) than facing the prospect of sitting still and quietly for up to 9 hours and watching it at home. It did mean I had two balloons banging in my face fairly constantly but it was great to see their enthusiasm and support and that of the rest of the crowd.”
Being able to attend the event also meant Adam’s girls unexpectedly witnessed first hand the physical pressure the pros go through.
“They had popped to the toilets at the break in sets and saw Konta collapsed and receiving medical attention. For them to then see close up the level of effort it took Konta to literally pick herself up and recover to take the match was inspirational.”
This is how the pro game can connect with the tennis we play. Not only do the fans get the chance to show their support, they can also play on the very same courts. Last year we began a league in Bath and we hope many a league match will be played exactly where Jo Konta and her team mates won the tie for Britain. LTL’s Mia Loney, a fine player herself, went to Bath University and as she was glued to the action on her ipad last week, she noted wistfully, “I’ve played on those courts so many times!” Even GB’s Fed Cup captain, Anne Keothavong (below), grew up playing on Highbury Fields, home of our very first league in north London.
There is also much to be learned from watching pros. While the difference in levels maybe be enormous, we are all the same in some respects. “It was noticeable that all the players on the day showed nerves and it was a reminder that that’s normal and needs to be embraced whether at an LTL match or a major Fed Cup tie,” says Adam, who was runner up in the mens doubles at the ITF tournament in Mallorca last October. “It was also a lesson in how you have to focus on your own game. In the final set, I felt Krunic got distracted by the delay when really, with Konta struggling to move, she should have beaten her if she had focused better.”
The next stage in the Fed Cup for the GB team is a World Group II play off in April, a position they have reached four times in the last 7 years and lost each time. But crucially, this year, they have secured themselves another home draw. It will be in London’s Copper Box Arena, just adjacent to our Lee Valley League in the Olympic Park (how sensible of the Fed Cup to follow LTL around!).
This is women’s tennis at its absolute best. It will excite and inspire. Book your tickets. Start blowing up the balloons. “We are all looking forward to the play offs!” says team Adam. “Bring on Kazakhstan!"
The new round of the Bath Tennis League begins on 11 April 2019. All welcome!