Great Britain pulled off a remarkable 3-0 victory over Spain in Glasgow to reach the semi-finals of the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time in 41 years.
Knowing following defeat by Kazakhstan on Tuesday that only a whitewash of the five-time champions would be good enough, Britain went into the tie at the Emirates Arena with seemingly little chance.
But Heather Watson and Harriet Dart overcame much higher ranked opponents – the latter in tears after stunning 13th-ranked Paula Badosa – and rookies Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls shrugged off the pressure of a winner-takes-all doubles rubber to defeat Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova.
The pair were late call-ups following Emma Raducanu’s withdrawal and had not been in anything remotely like this situation before but again played superbly to clinch a 7-6 (5) 6-2 victory.
Britain last reached the semi-finals back in 1981 and have been in the competition’s doldrums for much of the intervening time, with this sort of result so far off their radar it seemed completely impossible.
Anne Keothavong’s side arguably should not even be in the 12-team tournament having lost a qualifier to the Czech Republic in April but they were given a wild card when Britain stepped in to host the event at the Emirates Arena and have spectacularly made the most of it.
They now move through to a semi-final clash against Australia, where they should legitimately feel they have a strong chance of victory.
Among four exceptional performances, credit especially goes to Dart, who overcame a ranking gap of 85 places in a 6-3 6-4 victory over big-hitting Badosa.
Dart fought back tears in her on-court interview as she said: “It’s so awesome being here in Britain and being able to host this event. I’m just so happy to keep this one alive.”
The 26-year-old has beaten a number of highly ranked players this season and she used that confidence along with the momentum generated by Watson’s impeccable 6-0 6-2 success against Nuria Parrizas Diaz to surge into a 5-2 lead.
Badosa improved in the second set and consistently pressured the Dart serve, but the world number 98 held firm superbly and then seized her chance.
“She’s achieved so much, such a great player,” said Dart. “I always knew it was going to be an incredibly tough match.
“My goal was to make it as tough as possible out there for her and I felt like I executed my game plan really well. I knew that all the pressure was on them because, on paper, she’s meant to beat me easily. But these events, anything can happen. I’m just really proud to represent my country.”
Captain Keothavong opted to play Watson rather than Katie Boulter, who produced an error-strewn display on Tuesday, in the opening rubber and the 30-year-old fully justified that decision with a sparkling display against a player ranked 61 places higher.
Australia became the first team to book their place in the last four with a 3-0 victory over Belgium.
Belgian number one Elise Mertens, who dashed to Glasgow after winning the doubles title at the WTA Finals in Texas on Monday evening, retired during the third set of her clash against Ajla Tomljanovic with a shoulder injury.
Belgium played their two matches before the Czech Republic, who had two players at the WTA Finals, contested their first tie, which drew criticism from captain Johan Van Herck.
“So it’s something where I think we, as a small country, have to pay a price for not being the Czech Republic that starts today or the US that can play in the evening.”
Canada will take on Switzerland on Friday for a place in the semi-finals after beating Italy 3-0, with Leylah Fernandez claiming a 6-0 6-0 victory over Martina Trevisan, while the Czech Republic defeated Poland 2-1 to set up the same scenario against the USA.