Great Britain’s hopes of reaching the Billie Jean King Cup Finals are hanging by a thread after defeats for Katie Boulter and Harriet Dart on the opening day of the qualifier against France in Coventry.
With Emma Raducanu making herself unavailable for the tie, Britain went in as huge underdogs, and they will have to win all three rubbers on Saturday to avoid defeat.
Things could so easily have turned out differently, though, with Boulter battling for three hours and 26 minutes before going down 6-7 (2) 7-6 (4) 7-6 (2) to world number five Caroline Garcia.
Dart, the main hero of Britain’s unlikely run to the semi-finals of the competition last year, then failed to capitalise on her chances in a 7-6 (6) 7-6 (3) defeat by 70th-ranked Alize Cornet.
Captain Anne Keothavong said: “Sport can be brutal at times but I think both Harriet and Katie should still feel proud of their efforts, it just came down to a few points here and there. But there’s no time to dwell on the results today because we’ve got to come back fighting and ready tomorrow morning.”
In the opening match, Boulter could scarcely have come closer to what would have been the biggest victory of her career in front of an enthusiastic 2000-strong crowd at Coventry Building Society Arena.
It is an ongoing frustration that Boulter cannot get her ranking into the top 100 – she is currently down at 154 – given she has shown on many occasions that she can go toe to toe with the best players in the world.
Garcia was certainly relieved to find a way past the 26-year-old having trailed by a set and been a break down in the decider.
Perhaps Boulter’s biggest opportunity came with two break points at 4-4 that would have left her serving for the match, but she could not take either and she did well to save two match points on her own serve before Garcia showed her class in the tie-break.
Boulter was left with pain but no regrets, saying: “Obviously, I’m going to take that one to heart and it’s really going to hurt but I also know the level that I’m playing at right now and I just hope I can use that momentum and keep things going.
“You can’t have regrets. I think I’m a player that takes risks and I go after the ball and that’s going to win me a lot of matches and it’s also going to lose me a lot of matches and I am very comfortable with that.
“I would feel more uncomfortable if I didn’t play my game and trust myself. That’s when I feel like I haven’t done my job. And I felt like I really did that today.”
“She’s an incredible player,” said the Frenchwoman. “I don’t follow her career every single week so I don’t know what explains her ranking. But she definitely has the level and the ball strike and the game style of being top 50, top 30 for sure.”
Dart defeated Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic in the finals last year and looked well placed for a push up the rankings this season but instead she has struggled to win any matches and fallen well outside the top 100.
Cornet, 33, has also been in poor form and it showed, with neither able to keep hold of any momentum in the opening set.
She had one chance to clinch it but narrowly missed a forehand and it was the experienced Cornet, who has been ranked as high as 11, that eventually came out on top.
In contrast, there were no breaks of serve in the second set, but another tie-break went the way of France to leave them firmly in control of the contest.