Emma Raducanu will make her debut for Great Britain at the Billie Jean King Cup in their qualifier against the Czech Republic next month.
The tie, due to take place on April 15 and 16, will see US Open champion Raducanu compete on clay for the first time in her professional career, at the outdoor Tennis Club ICLTK in Prague.
Raducanu was previously involved with the British team on two occasions, first as a hitting partner in 2019 and then with her first call up in Bratislava the following year.
But she has never played for the team, and will make her debut in singles next month, leading out the more experienced Katie Swan and soon-to-be British No 2 Harriet Dart. Twenty-year-old Sonay Kartal, who was a one-time rival of Raducanu during their early teens, earned her first call up to complete the British line up after rising to the world top 400 recently.
Heather Watson, usually a mainstay on the team sheet, opted out of competing for this qualifier to focus on improving her singles ranking, while Katie Boulter and Francesca Jones have missed out through injury.
Great Britain face the unenviable task of taking on one of the top five sides in the world, with the winner advancing to the 12-team BJK Cup Finals in November. The loser will have to battle it out in play-offs for next year’s qualifiers.
“We are looking forward to the challenge of playing the Czechs,” team captain Anne Keothavong said of her British side, which is ranked 15th.
“Emma will be making her singles debut, although she was part of our teams in 2019 and 2020. Harriet and Katie have been an integral part of the team the last couple of years while I’m excited to give Sonay that experience for the first time.
“Every tie creates a unique pressure and intensity which I’m sure our players will thrive on and, even though we have a difficult challenge ahead against the Czechs, I have every confidence our squad will do themselves and their country proud.”
While Great Britain are major underdogs on paper, none of the three top-ranked Czech players – world No 2 Barbora Krejcikova, eighth-ranked Karolina Pliskova and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova – will compete in the tie, a big boost to British chances.
However, their opponents remain strong, with the top doubles player in the world Katerina Siniakova named on the Czech team, as well as Marketa Vondrousova and Tereza Martincova – who are both in the top 50 – and former top 20 player Karolina Muchova.
Much-needed respite for Raducanu
The BJK Cup may well provide a welcome break from the rigours of Tour life for Raducanu, giving her the opportunity to connect with a team for the first time since her major success last season.
Now three months into the first full season of her professional career, Raducanu has played just six matches and has been unable to get a run of wins under her belt after a number of short-term injury issues.
The guarantee of match time with the British team in Prague will be a major plus, and it will also give a glimpse of her ability on clay for the first time, valuable practice on the surface ahead of Roland Garros the following month.
Meanwhile Dart has been in flying form of late, making a run to the fourth round of Indian Wells after going through qualifiers, including a win over top 20 player Elina Svitolina in the first round. She will make her debut into the top 100 next week and will likely play the other singles match against the Czech side.
Kartal is a relative newcomer, having suffered from a long-term wrist injury throughout her late teens. Now 20, she returned to the court last October and has been gaining momentum, claiming four titles on the ITF circuit to boost her ranking from outside the top 800 in December to 392.
She spoke last week about her childhood spent competing against Raducanu and how inspired she was by her contemporary’s run to the title in New York. Though her chances of playing in Prague might be slim, seeing her and Raducanu reunited on the BJK Cup team shows there is a new generation of British talent emerging.