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Team Great Britain pose for a group shot during the draw of the Billie Jean King Cup Play-Offs between Great Britain and Mexico - GETTY IMAGES

Team Great Britain pose for a group shot during the draw of the Billie Jean King Cup Play-Offs between Great Britain and Mexico – GETTY IMAGES

The last time Great Britain took on Mexico in a tennis fixture, it turned into a debacle. Andrew Castle predicted a crushing victory before a 1987 Davis Cup tie in Mexico City, only for him and team-mate Jeremy Bates to lose all five rubbers.

Today is the women’s turn, and the British captain, Anne Keothavong, can be grateful the match is not being played at altitude in Central America — as originally scheduled — but instead in the rather more familiar surroundings of Roehampton’s National Tennis Centre.

The Mexicans have forfeited their best chance in this tie. Home advantage would have been useful, especially as the British team have not won a World Group play-off on the road for almost 30 years. But the Mexican Tennis Federation was struggling to elect a president last year, let alone organise a Billie Jean King Cup tie with appropriate levels of biosecurity. So, the venue reverted to south-west London, and as Keothavong put it yesterday: “We are the favourites. There’s no skirting around that.”

As in 1987, the Mexican players are not familiar faces. Marcela Zacarias, their No 1 singles player, is ranked 285th and has yet to win a tour-level match in a decade-long career. Giuliana Olmos, who backs up Zacarias, stands at No 434 and has just a single scalp to her name. But Britain are short of their full strength, after British No 1 Johanna Konta opted to prioritise her individual career. Also missing is Fran Jones, the Leeds 20-year-old who defies a congenital condition affecting her fingers and toes. In recent weeks, Jones has been playing a kind of tennis hopscotch after entering two events in Argentina — a red-list country, according to Covid protocols.

She would have liked to be available but instead wound up in Portugal, where she beat Valentini Grammatikopoulou yesterday at a second-tier event.

“It’s been difficult for all the players, especially lower-ranked players, to plan a schedule because of the limitations,” said Keothavong. “Lots of tournaments have been cancelled and you’ve got to take your opportunities and do what’s best for you. Fran has chosen to do that but the door is always open for her, I really hope she is part of any future ties we have.”

Keotha­vong was equally sympathetic regarding Konta. “Given the problems she has had with her knee in recent times, the change of surface was a concern to her. I totally understand that at this stage of her career her fitness is her No 1 priority.”

Today’s singles matches will be contested by Heather Watson — who will claim her 30th victory in this competition if she is successful — and Katie Boulter, whose last appearance for Britain proved catastrophic. Playing Kazakhstan at London’s Olympic Park two years ago, Boulter claimed the decisive point by beating Zarina Diyas, but aggravated a back injury to the point where it became a stress ­fracture. Boulter’s ranking, which stood at No 85, has yet to recover, and it is her past performances, rather than her current position of 291, that led to her selection for singles ahead of Harriet Dart, Katie Swan and Jodie Burrage.

Nevertheless, she said yesterday: “Honestly, I think I am in a better place than I have been for a very long time, even when I was at my career high. It’s a long road ahead of me, but I feel like I have put the work in to be back in the right place and to move on from there.”

To add insult to Boulter’s back injury, Great Britain’s 2019 victory over Kazakhstan was rendered irrelevant when the International Tennis Federation reorganised the competition into a new format. Even so, Boulter still cites the frenzied atmosphere in the Copper Box arena that weekend as one of the highlights of her career. Today’s matches will be contrastingly silent, with no fans admitted to the National Tennis Centre.

Watson said: “It definitely feels very different to the ties I’ve played in the past. I feel very grateful that we get to play at home, although it would have been really nice to have the home fans here with us, because I feel that‘s what makes Fed Cup (now the BJK Cup) so special.”

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