Johanna Konta will be fit to play in the Australian Open but has dealt a massive blow to Great Britain’s Fed Cup chances by announcing she will not represent her country in the competition this year.
Konta is Britain’s best female player by some distance and has won her last 11 singles matches in Fed Cup, the most recent two to help Britain to victory over Kazakhstan last April.
That saw Britain finally promoted back to World Group level after 26 years, although a subsequent revamp of the competition means they must win a play-off against Slovakia in Bratislava next month to book a spot at the inaugural finals week in Budapest in April.
Konta’s absence will make the Slovakia tie extremely difficult but the world number 13 insisted she had the blessing of GB captain Anne Keothavong.
“I had a really good chat with Anne in November and so everyone who is important to me does know about this decision and has been really supportive and on board with it,” she said.
“It’s kind of a combination of things: it’s an Olympic year, I’m looking to schedule things slightly differently for the longevity of my body and to be able to come back in following years and hopefully play more Fed Cup.”
The 28-year-old revealed last month that she had struggled with a niggling knee problem for much of 2019, cutting short what had been a brilliant season after the US Open.
A post shared by Johanna Konta (@johannakonta) on Jan 13, 2020 at 1:31am PST
She has only played one match since, losing to Barbora Strycova in Brisbane last week before withdrawing from the WTA tournament in Adelaide to prioritise practice.
She said: “When I left London I was still coming out of my last stage of rehabbing the knee and what we decided was best was for me to be able to get some more court time, some more practice sets.
“So we’re here and I’ve had a good week here and I’m looking forward to getting started.
“The worst thing that can happen is that I lose and I go home and prepare for the rest of the season. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I am here because I am ready to compete and that’s what I’m going to do, the best I can.”
Britain could also be without Katie Boulter for the Slovakia tie. Boulter’s win over Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas clinched promotion but came at the considerable cost of a back injury that ended up ruling her out for six months.
Boulter said: “I’m really passionate about Fed Cup, I think you can tell from last year, I put my heart and soul into absolutely everything playing for my country.
“I haven’t made a final decision on Fed Cup this year. I’m trying to focus on Melbourne and not look too far ahead. I’ll be having those conversations afterwards.
“I think it’s a massive shame to be losing Jo, she’s obviously a huge asset, but we’ve got a massive depth to our team.”
A post shared by Katie Boulter (@katiecboulter) on Jan 15, 2020 at 3:15am PST
The rankings do not back Boulter up given Konta is currently the only British woman in the top 100, although Heather Watson will join her on Monday following her excellent run in Hobart.
A year ago Boulter celebrated her elevation to the top 100 by reaching the second round of the Australian Open and looked poised for a strong season.
Instead, she did not play a match between April and November and is now ranked down at 317.
She was able to enter the Australian Open on a protected ranking, and said: “I’ve got really good memories from last year and I’m just so excited to get back out on the court.
“I’m feeling really positive about 2020 already and I think I’m in a really, really good place.”
The draw could have been significantly kinder to Boulter, who will face fifth seed Elina Svitolina on Tuesday, while Konta finds herself in a very difficult section and starts against Tunisian Ons Jabeur on Monday.
An unknown factor is what the air quality will be like for the start of next week, with smoke from the ongoing wildfires potentially returning over the weekend.
Konta was due to head from her press conference to a WTA Player Council meeting, where the tournament’s handling of the situation was sure to be on the agenda.
“Definitely when the air hasn’t been good it hasn’t been good,” said Konta. “It’s not ideal and it wouldn’t be ideal to play in it that’s for sure.
“I was practising on Tuesday when it was quite bad and you could feel the lack of oxygen and the different contents in the air. It’s not a healthy environment to play in.”
Meanwhile, Harriet Dart made it four British women in the main draw with a 6-1 6-3 win over Giulia Gatto-Monticone in the final round of qualifying.