The Fed Cup is the world cup of women’s tennis and it’s on its way to Bath. Emma Clegg talks to doubles player Anna Smith about her career, her recent injury and why this tournament will be the best start to 2019
The Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition, not just in women’s tennis, but in women’s sport. As a team competition and with as many as 95 countries taking part, it’s not as simple as the knock-out Wimbledon format where you’re out if you lose. So even when teams are relegated from a group, they still have a chance to qualify in the World Group Play-offs. The competition is structured with an eight-nation World Group and eight-nation World Group II, contested over three weekends in the year. The remaining countries are divided into three regional zones.
The World Group First Round (Europe/ Africa Group 1 tie) takes place on 6–9 February, and for the first time in 26 years it is being co-hosted in Britain, at the University of Bath, with the other host being Poland. “We’re very excited that we’ve finally got some time to play in front of the home crowd,” says specialist doubles player Anna Smith, who trains at Team Bath at the university and will be representing Great Britain in the Fed Cup. “You just get drawn out of the hat whether it’s a home or away side. And we’ve just never been fortunate enough to get a home side until now.”
There are 15 nations in Group 1 and they will be split across the two host locations. Joining Great Britain to compete in Bath are Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Georgia and Slovenia.
Anna started playing tennis aged 10 and has trained at Bath since she joined Team Bath in 2013 where she is coached by TeamBath head coach David Sammel. Anna has won five ITF singles titles and 29 doubles titles in her career. After suffering an injury in 2018, her doubles ranking has dropped from a career-high of 46 to 100, but she is in the last stages of recovery and will be taking part in the Fed Cup in February as she starts to work her way back up the rankings.
Like many tennis players, it was watching Wimbledon that inspired her: “The first time I knew that I wanted to play tennis was when I watched Wimbledon on TV. Seeing the crowds and the grass courts, it just really made me want to pick up a racket and try it.
“Martina Hingis was my favourite player to watch then because we’re both quite petite. I connected with her style, her on-court creativity and the way she managed to play against the harder hitters and was still so successful. I looked up to her and I really enjoyed watching her play.”
The facilities at the University of Bath provide everything that Anna needs for her training regime. “I’ve been professional since I was 16 when I started training in Bath and I have been based here ever since. The facilities are incredible and you have everything you possibly need here – it has been brilliant and they have supported me so much. They support me coaching wise, with fitness, physio, anything I could possibly need to keep me playing and improve as much as possible.”
Anna’s injury was quite a setback and she had double knee surgery in July. “It was an accumulation of a lot of tennis over the years,” Anna explains, “and it was just something that needed to be done.”
Tennis is a demanding game because it requires a combination of physical strength and tennis ability and psychological focus and control. As a doubles player, you need to support your partner, too, and cope with a faster game. “I’m quite calm on court and I try not to show my emotions but obviously sometimes it spills over,” says Anna. “But generally I’m relaxed and calm. Tennis is hard enough as it is without giving your opponent an advantage by showing them you are angry or upset. So its always good to try and keep as much of a level head as possible. And that’s what I attempt to bring on the court.”
I ask what skills make someone effective at doubles. “What makes me a good doubles player is the upper strength I have on court,” Anna explains. “I love being at the net and volleying and that is a huge part of doubles. My returns are a big thing in my game as well, important on the doubles court. Doubles just brings out the best in me – it’s instinctively how my game is. It is just something that I really enjoy, and that always helps.”
A team tournament brings with it a team focus. “In Fed Cup it’s captain’s choice so to be honest I’d just like to be selected and then I will support whichever team the captain thinks is the best. All of us play with whoever we need to because it is the team ethos.”
I wonder how Anna researches the style of play of her opponents? “When scouting opponents you look for slightly different things in doubles than singles, so you’d look at passes and plays on big points. Certain players will do certain things under pressure no matter who they play with and you need to take note of these.
“One of the things to look for is how they serve on big points, and where they like to return, because when it’s a big point some people will always return in a certain place. If they like to intercept at the net, they normally like to have a certain number of shots before they go, or they always go on the first shot.”
When the Fed Cup comes to the University of Bath, it will seat over 2,000 spectators each day. The indoor tennis courts will be transformed into one centre court with the seats built around it housing more than 1,800 people and another show court will seat 250. “The Fed Cup is the world cup of women’s tennis, a chance to showcase the best of the female game. Especially now we get the chance to have a home tie, and to bring it to Bath. Hopefully people will come and watch even if they haven’t watched or played a lot of tennis,” enthuses Anna. “For me, it’s the ideal way to start the year.”
The University of Bath is hosting the Fed Cup from 6–9 February 2019; lta.org.uk/fedcuptickets