LONDON, Great Britain - Great Britain and Kazakhstan are all tied up after an action-packed Day 1 saw Johanna Konta rally back from a set down against Zarina Diyas and Yulia Putintseva save three match points in an epic against Katie Boulter.
Britain, the four-time Fed Cup winning home side, came into the clash having fallen at this playoff stage of the competition last year, as well as in 2012, 2013 and 2017. They’ll have their work cut out for them after Day 1 ended deadlocked at 1-1 as Britain continues to seek a place back in World Group II for the first time in 26 years.
Although Great Britain was playing at home, it was the small yet vocal group of Kazakhstan fans that drowned out all the noise early on at Copper Box Arena when Zarina Diyas took the opening set against Britain’s No.1 Konta, ranked World No.46.
World No.107 Diyas has been instrumental in previous Fed Cup ties for Kazakhstan, owning an impressive 14-1 win-loss record in singles coming into the matchup.
Diyas powered ahead to an early double break to lead 5-1, and dodged four Konta break points to consolidate her lead. Konta mounted a late comeback effort, breaking once to cut down on arrears and make it 5-3, but Diyas served it out with ease.
However the building momentum was still with Konta, and the Brit rallied in the second set. She quickly reeled off five games in a row to make it 5-0, and slammed the door shut on any hopes of a Diyas comeback as she sealed the set with an ace.
With Konta fully dialed in, she opened the third set with four games in a row to go up a double break at 4-1. Diyas was struggling to find her rhythm against the Brit’s assault, and Konta broke once more and sealed the match after a grueling two hours and 38 minutes.
With Great Britain ahead 1-0, World No.86 Boulter took the court likely feeling a bit less pressure against the top Kazakh Yulia Putintseva, who at No.38 is the highest-ranked player in the tie.
Boulter quickly silenced the Kazakhstani contingent as she charged through the opening set. She played confident, aggressive tennis to neutralize Putintseva and earn a double break, reeling off the last four games in a row to claim the set.
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But that’s just when things started getting complicated for Boulter. After trading breaks with Putintseva, 1-1, the Kazakh finally broke through in a lengthy battle a game later to make it 2-1 - just as Boulter looked to tweak her left thigh. Putintseva took advantage of the brief letdown and powered ahead to seal the second set, breaking at 5-2.
The rubber had a few more twists and turns left, however, as Boulter mounted a monumental effort to rally back in the final set. Boulter powered ahead to a double break to lead 4-0, looking ready to charge through the finish line - but Putintseva had other ideas. She mounted a stunning comeback of her own to get both of the breaks back and level the score at 5-5.
With the stadium rocking, Putintseva found herself down match points at 6-5, but held firm to send the pair into a tiebreak. The tension rocketed when Boulter reached two more match points at 6-4 - but the Kazakh saved them as well to snatch the victory, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(6).
The two sides will return to the Copper Box Arena tomorrow for the decisive rubbers, with Konta taking on Putintseva and Boulter scheduled to face Diyas in singles. In doubles, Harriet Dart and Heather Watson are set to face Anna Danilina and Galina Voskoboeva.