It was a day of close calls at the University of Bath as Great Britain battled bravely to book a place in the Europe/Africa Group 1 play-off where they will face Serbia on Saturday.
Katie Boulter needed to dig deep to come through a three-set epic to beat Hungary’s Dalma Galfi in the opening rubber late on Friday afternoon, after which the British No 1, Johanna Konta, had to come back from the brink to score the narrowest of wins over Anna Bondar to take Great Britain 2-0 up.
Every match, I try as hard as I can. I'm a fighter - that's who I am. I think I've proven that in the past couple of days. It's been a really good week for me. Katie Boulter
Four of the six sets played on the day went to tiebreaks and a finish past 11pm meant a tough turnaround for Anne Keothavong’s team, who as winners of Group A face Group B winners Serbia, who edged a thriller of their own against Croatia, 2-1.
Having beaten Greece on Thursday after seeng off Slovenia on Wednesday in their first home tie in the tournament for 26 years, GB looked to be cruising when Boulter moved 5-1 up before surviving a fightback to take the first set 6-4.
Boulter, who is making her Fed Cup debut, battled through against Galfi, 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(1) in the round-robin event in Bath, after the Hungarian, the World No 311, snatched the second set tiebreak before moving a break clear in the final set.
“It was very difficult to keep my head straight and I just wanted to zone in again and put the towel on my head and focus on the floor a little bit, and I thought I did well to bounce back,” she said.
The Brit made her now customary quick start, going two breaks up in the first 12 minutes, before being pegged back by the 20-year old, who had needed just four sets to overcome Greece’s Valentini Grammatikopoulou and Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan.
Boulter, apparently unfazed by carrying the hopes of her nation in leading the hosts out onto court, put in another mature display in the first set, and looked set for a relatively routine win.
It was to become an enthralling contest as the fearless Galfi struck back, taking control of the second set tiebreak and moving a break up in the third, before 22-year-old Boulter found the strength to strike back.
In the decisive third set tiebreak, Boulter took the initiative, moving to a 5-0 lead and serving it out at 6-1, needing just one of her five match points when Galfi sliced a forehand return wide.
“My whole heart, I put on that line there,” Boulter said after coming through in 2 hours 22 minutes. “It means so much for me to play for my country.
“Every match, I try as hard as I can. I’m a fighter – that’s who I am.
“I think I’ve proven that in the past couple of days. It’s been a really good week for me.”
The atmosphere at the packed arena in Bath was ecstatic as Jo Konta took to the court against another Hungarian youngster, Anna Bondar, the World No 224.
If she thought this was to be a routine win, she was mistaken, as an inspired Bondar played way above her ranking and pushed the Briton all the way to the line.
It started well enough as the British No 1 broke twice to take the first set after just half an hour and appeared set for a comfortable victory, but her 21-year-old opponent found her range on serve that gradually frustrated the former Wimbledon and Australian Open semi-finalist, more and more.
Bondar fired 15 aces during the course of the match and saved many of the 9 break point opportunities by using her powerful serve to greater and greater effect, finally punishing the Brit in the second set tiebreak.
Konta is every inch a fighter and battled back from 3-1 down in the decider, then survived 3 break points at 4-4 before orchestrating yet another escape at 5-all, with her punchy groundstrokes saving the day.
Eventually Konta triumphed, 6-2 6-7(1) 7-6(4) over her feisty opponent to seal the team’s victory, but it was a close call that must have had Captain Anne Keothavong pondering on who to field in a deciding doubles.
At the last, Konta’s greater experience told as she clinched the nervy tiebreak on her first match point when Bondar missed a forehand, bringing the crowd to its feet as the clock passed 11pm, and ensuring hosts Great Britain finished top of Pool A.
“The reason why I was on the ropes was because of the way she was playing. She played amazing tennis,” Konta said.
“I am very fortunate to have come through that. If anything, I think it was my experience which got me through.
“She was playing well, so I had to remember that and to not judge myself too harshly, and try to break her rhythm as much as possible,” Konta added.
“I am just happy I followed on from Katie as she is doing incredibly well. It is another opportunity we have given ourselves and we will go into tomorrow [Saturday] and put it all out there like we have done so far.”
Her victory meant the tie was wrapped up without Great Britain needing to play the dead doubles rubber.
Britain now need to get past Serbia, who overcame Croatia on Friday morning to finish top of Group B and, like the Brits, have three wins from three thus far.
The Serbs go into Saturday’s tie having had around 6 hours more rest than the British team after another late finish in Bath.
Great Britain will still be without the experienced Heather Watson, who has been ill this week, but Keothavong believes Boulter and Konta can inspire more success.
“Coming through matches 7-6 in the third will do both their confidence a world of good. They’ll be running high on adrenaline,” she said.
“We have a good medical support team, who will be doing their best right now to ensure Jo and Katie are fit and ready to go again tomorrow.”
Britain have played outside the Fed Cup’s top two tiers since 1993 but are bidding to reach the World Group II play-offs for a third successive year but face a stern challenge in Serbia to do so.
18-year old Olga Danilovic was the star of the Serbia’s show on Friday, after saving a match point to win her singles in a deciding tiebreak before teaming up with Aleksandra Krunic to clinch the deciding doubles 6-4 in the third set.
The big-hitting teenager, who won her first WTA title in Moscow aged just 17 last summer, battled past Jana Fett, 2-6 6-2 7-6(7), in 2 hours and 23 minutes to put the Serbs 1-0 up, before Donna Vekic levelled the tie when she proved too powerful for Krunic towards the end of a 1-6 7-5 6-1 win.
Danilovic turned the opening match of the day around by winning nine out of ten games from 1-2 in the second set to lead 4-1 in the third before things got a lot tighter.
Fett clawed her way back to 4-4 but Danilovic had her first chance to finish it in the 10th game with the Croat serving at 4-5.
That chance slipped away and the Serb left-hander missed another two match points from 6-4 up in the deciding tiebreak.
She then saved one of her own at 6-7 before finishing it off 9-7.
Once victory was hers the teenager slumped to the floor, overcome with emotion. She has now won all five of the Fed Cup singles matches she has played.
The deciding rubber went down to the wire and it was appropriate that it was Danilovic who crunched a backhand pass up the line to break the Croatian team of Darija Jurak and Ana Konjuh for a 4-2 lead in the third set, and then held her nerve to serve it out 1-6 6-1 6-4.
“All three matches were very hard and very tough,” said Serbian Captain Tatjana Jecminica.
“In the first match we had no idea who was going to win but Olga did it. Aleksandra had a tough match and Donna in the second and third sets played very well.
“We knew the doubles would be tight but to be honest we expected to have a better doubles [team].
“Olga plays really good when she plays for our country and when she plays for a team because it seems to be very good for her motivation.
“I told my girls that they’re going to die on the court and that they’re going to give their best and I’m very proud of them.
“To be honest we haven’t thought about Saturday. We’re going step by step. Now we’ll start to think about the play-off.”
On Court 1 meanwhile, Turkey comfortably beat Georgia to avoid finishing bottom of Pool B. Singles victories from Cagla Buyukakcay and Pemra Ozgen were enough to earn a 2-0 win.
The scoreline means Georgia will play either Greece or Slovenia on Saturday in a relegation play-off.
The losing team drops down into Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2020.