Fed Cup: How karaoke is bringing Great Britain team closer together

The British Fed Cup Team
The British Fed Cup players and staff take time off from Fed Cup preparations to attend an official event dinner
Japan v Great Britain – Fed Cup 2018 play-offs
Venue: Bourbon Beans Dome, Miki, Japan Dates: 21-22 April
Coverage: Live TV streaming on the BBC Sport website and mobile app, Radio 5 live updates, plus live text commentary on 22 April

We arrived here on Monday afternoon, and the Japanese have been very respectful and helpful. We’ve been given someone to help translate and assist us with anything we need, and so far everything’s been pretty straightforward.

We flew via Hong Kong – it’s never easy going from west to east with an eight-hour time difference – and I slept like a baby the first night. I slept for 12 hours straight – the one bonus of not having my kids here! Mind you, that hasn’t happened again since.

I’m feeling good as we’ve got a strong team. The format of this competition and the week in general is completely different to what the players experience at a regular WTA event.

Fed Cup: How karaoke is bringing Great Britain team closer together
Fed Cup: How karaoke is bringing Great Britain team closer together

But I take confidence from the fact that when we had Fed Cup in February in Estonia, the players were able to produce really good tennis.

They are representing their country, they are surrounded by different people and there’s a lot of positive energy. Hopefully, that can help raise their level and it certainly gives them something different to play for.

We don’t get as many opportunities in Fed Cup to come together like the Davis Cup team, but when we have come together we’ve become stronger and stronger as a team with each tie.

When I hear Jo Konta talking about our last tie in Estonia being her best experience in the Fed Cup, that excites me – I feel like we are on the right track.

The more time everyone spends together and the more familiar you become – not just with team-mates but with the support staff as well – the stronger the relationships and trust.

We have also got to know each other well on court and what helps each player to train and then compete at their best.

On the practice court, for example, Heather Watson loves to play touch and silly games, which help lift her spirit and energy. This means the coaches often have to do the extra yards with, most of the time, Heather trying to beat them. This can be infectious and helps set the mood for a good session.

Great Britain's Johanna Konta
Johanna Konta beat Hungary’s Fanny Stollar 6-3 6-1 to help GB reach the Fed Cup World Group II play-off

A taste of Kobe and travel karaoke

On Wednesday night we were able to get out of the hotel, which feels like you could be anywhere. We went to a teppanyaki restaurant, where the chef cooks in front of you, which was unique and allowed us to feel, albeit briefly, immersed in Japanese culture. Pretty much everybody went for Kobe steak, but when in Kobe…

One member of the team thought the beef was “too tender”. Harsh feedback. After dinner the players got to walk around Kobe with its vibrant downtown.

It is on a smaller scale than some Japanese cities, and the girls could check out the local area and sample the atmosphere, which is something they don’t get to do too often.

Doing little things like this again allows us to make this week feel different to every other week when the girls are out on the road competing for themselves.

Most evenings after dinner we try to do something as a team. We travel with our own karaoke microphone and there’s an app we download as the girls like a good sing song.

Any genre of song goes and everyone is encouraged to perform to the team. Indeed, as I write this the doctor is singing “boom, shake, shake, shake the room”, I kid you not. I will probably be next.

Heather’s probably got the best voice and she leads the way with the dance moves. They all seem to lose their inhibitions and that’s a reflection of how comfortable everyone is around each other. It’s light-hearted and a good team-building exercise.

Heads Up is another game we enjoy and it gets quite competitive – that’s another app, which is basically like charades. The players and myself usually team up against the rest of the support staff. Obviously the support staff never win.

Heather and Jo are both very good – probably the leading actors – and Anna Smith is a movie and song buff so she’s very good at naming things.

Gabi Taylor is learning from the senior members of the team! This is her first Fed Cup experience so it’s a real eye-opener for her and a chance to learn from the others. The girls have done a great job taking her under their wing and showing her the ropes.

The venue is very striking. It looks like a Teletubbies house – with grass on the roof. But there’s plenty of metal up above as well, so it looks like a very secure structure and in the event of an earthquake, this is where they shelter.

As for the court, there was a fair bit of dust on it when we arrived but they have given it a good clean and it looks a lot better now. It hasn’t really affected the speed of the court – it’s still pretty fast and the ball checks in places.

We have prepared the best we can and, come Saturday and Sunday, it’s down to the players. The only thing I can do from the side is support and advise the best I can. It’s a 50-50 match so it will be a case of who is best on the day.

Bourbon Beans Dome
Victory for GB at the Bourbon Beans Dome would mean a return to World Group level for the first time since 1993

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