With Great Britain 2-0 up on Mexico overnight, it was up to Heather Watson to polish off the opponents in the Billie Jean King Cup Play-Offs on Saturday, but she met an inspired Marcela Zacarias, who beat her in straight sets, leaving it to Katie Boulter to conclude the business.
She’s a big match player, Katie Boulter. She’s delivered in the past and she delivered again this week. I’m really proud of the performances she put in. There were a few bumps along the way, but she found a way through it and she finished strong again. Anne Keothavong, GB Team Captain
Boulter secured Great Britain’s place in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers after bringing an end to the spirited Mexican revival at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, quashing any hopes of a deciding doubles after seeing off Giuliana Olmos 6-4 6-1 to round off an impressive 3-1 triumph for the hosts.
Great Britain, Canada, Italy and Ukraine were among the 8 countries that reached the qualifying round for next year’s finals after completing the first matches in the women’s tennis team competition since its name was changed from Fed Cup last year.
Also advancing were Kazakhstan, Latvia, Netherlands and Poland.
Watson could not get herself going in the battle of the number ones against a player ranked more than 200 places below her.
Zacarias had only previously beaten a top-100 player once in her career, 6 years ago, but her consistency and willingness to chase down ball after ball saw her come out on top against an erratic Watson.
“I can’t believe it,” Zacarias admitted following a win that was inspired, she revealed, by watching her good friend and World No 430 Maria Lourdes Carle upset No 23 Elena Rybakina during Argentina’s tie with Kazakhstan in Cordoba on Friday.
“Yesterday we were a little bit down because we lost two matches, but seeing my Argentinian friend beating a [player ranked in the] 20s in the world… I got the confidence,” Zacarias said later. “I knew I had to start really hard and it could go my way.”
28-year-old Watson, ranked 68, played a poor first set, struggling on serve and dumping far too many shots into the net.
She responded well in the second, however, to move 5-3 up but she was tense as she tried to serve it out, and Zacarias seized her opportunity, dominating the tiebreak and celebrating the biggest victory of her career, 6-3 7-6(1).
“I definitely didn’t find my game today. I just never got going,” Watson admitted. “I was positive throughout and was thinking, ‘It’ll turn, I’ll start to find my game’, but I just didn’t today.
“I just had a bad day at the office. I gave the best with what I had but it was far from good enough.”
Unfortunately for the Mexicans, that was all that went their way on Saturday.
When play finally resumed after a lengthy break as a mark or respect during the funeral of his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Boulter wasted little time in producing another scintillating performance to wrap up a 3-1 win for Great Britain.
Boulter is currently the British No 9 due to her No 291 ranking that is a legacy of the serious back injury she sustained while guiding Britain to victory over Kazakhstan in the Fed Cup in 2019.
Olmos, who lost to Watson on Friday, is ranked outside the top 400 in singles but is a top-50 doubles player so Boulter’s impressive 6-4 6-1 win over Giuliana Olmos, particularly her play in the second set, augurs well for a welcome return to form for the Brit on the WTA tour.
After taking her 5th set point to clinch the opener, Boulter did not look back.
“I strongly believe I’ve put a lot of work in and I feel like my game is in a really, really good place,” she said. “It’s there and it’s ready to come out, it’s just about doing that consistently.
‘I know my game is going to get there, it’s just a matter of time. It’s just a bit of patience.”
Team captain Anne Keothavong agreed with that sentiment: “For Katie, I know it’s just a matter of time. She just needs to be out there competing to get back into the top-100.
“She’s looking fit, she’s looking strong, she’s enjoying her tennis. Lots of positives, lots of things going in the right direction for Katie.”
The result means Britain go forward to a first-round tie next February, where victory would see them qualify for the finals week for the first time.
“She’s a big match player, Katie Boulter,” said Keothavong afterwards. “She’s delivered in the past and she delivered again this week.
“I’m really proud of the performances she put in. There were a few bumps along the way, but she found a way through it and she finished strong again.”
The decision by Johanna Konta to skip this tie did not stop her appearing at the venue this week as the World No 18 continued her preparations on the nearby clay courts.
“You always want your No 1 player as a part of the team and she has led by example in so many previous ties,” Keothavong said. “She has been a fantastic role model for other players on the team.
“But I had this discussion with her weeks and weeks ago and I totally understand her decision. Given the problems she has had with her knee in recent times, the change of surface was a concern to her, and if she is planning to go to Stuttgart in a few days, I totally understand that at this stage of her career that her fitness is her No 1 priority.
“I have a very good relationship with Jo. We can speak honestly to each other and I know exactly where her thought process is with her career and the bigger picture.
“I do hope in future Jo does make herself available in different times and different circumstances, I don’t doubt that she will but right now she has to do what’s right for her knee, her body and her career.”
Venue: National Tennis Centre, London, Great Britain; Surface: hard, indoors
- Katie Boulter (GBR) d. Marcela Zacarias (MEX) 7-5 6-0
- Heather Watson (GBR) d. Giuliana Olmos (MEX) 7-5 6-1
- Marcela Zacarias (MEX) d. Heather Watson (GBR) 6-3 7-6(1)
- Katie Boulter (GBR) d. Giuliana Olmos (MEX) 6-4 6-1
- Harriet Dart/Heather Watson (GBR) v Fernanda Contreras Gomez/Giuliana Olmos (MEX) – not played
Eight nations have advanced to the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers following victories in the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Play-offs, which took place in eight cities around the world on 16-17 April., while the eight losing nations (Argentina, Brazil, China PR, India, Japan, Mexico, Romania and Serbia) will compete in one of the three regional Group I events in 2022: Americas, Asia/Oceania or Europe/Africa.
Serbia 0 / Canada 4
Leading Canada through 5 hours of intense hard-court battling, Leylah Fernandez delivered lights-out tennis from first ball to last against Serbia.
World No. 6 Bianca Andreescu missed out on Canada’s trip to Serbia, but her absence was barely noticed as 18-year-old Fernandez grabbed the spotlight with a pair of impressive singles wins, which drove the visitors to a comprehensive 4-0 win.
After taking an unassailable 3-0 lead, Canada wrapped things up as Carol Zhao & Rebecca Marino beat Ivana Jorovic & Aleksandra Krunic in the doubles to put the icing on the cake.
Fresh from winning her maiden WTA title in Monterrey last month, Fernandez fought back from a set and a break down against Nina Stojanovic on Saturday to seal Canada’s progress into next season’s Qualifiers after she also battled some off-court adversity.
Gearing up for her fifth match point, Fernandez was temporarily derailed by a floodlight failure which forced a 10-minute delay and when the players returned to the court, Stojanovic hit back.
But it was lights out for Serbia a few moments later as Fernandez showed nerves of steel to win the next two points and send the Canadian bench into raptures.
“I tricked myself that it wasn’t match point and that I wasn’t up in the third set,” Fernandez said. “More like, let’s end this point as if I am trying to get back into the set, work harder than my opponent and get that ball back in.”
“I am delighted I was able to pull through an incredibly tough match. I missed some match points and the lights went out, but I stayed focused. I was happy to get this opportunity as the number one player.
“My team-mates and the staff supported me all the way through, they were very encouraging throughout the weekend and that helped me a lot.”
- Venue: Sport Hall Ibar, Kraljevo, Serbia; Surface: hard, indoors
- Leylah Annie Fernandez (CAN) d. Olga Danilovic (SRB) 7-5 4-6 6-4
- Rebecca Marino (CAN) d. Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 6-4 7-6(6)
- Leylah Annie Fernandez (CAN) d. Nina Stojanovic (SRB) 3-6 6-3 6-4
- Olga Danilovic (SRB) v Rebecca Marino (CAN) – not played
- Rebecca Marino/Carol Zhao (CAN) d. Ivana Jorovic/Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) 6-7(4) 6-3 [10-0]
Romania 1 / Italy 3
Elisabetta Cocciaretto sealed Italy’s safe passage after a clutch win over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu handed the visitors a 3-1 win in Cluj-Napoca.
Cool-headed throughout, the 20-year-old won 7-5 7-6(5) in 2 hours 42 minutes to see off any chance of a Romanian comeback, after Elena Gabriela Ruse had threatened the start of a stirring revival for the hosts following her maiden win in the competition.
Ruse recorded her first win for her country at the second attempt, battling back to beat World No.104 Jasmine Paolini , ranked 64 spots above her, 1-6 6-3 6-4, in impressive fashion after 2 hours 32 minutes.
While new player-captain Monica Niculescu hoped the win might steer Romania away from the prospect of a third consecutive defeat, Cocciaretto had other ideas, much to the delight of visiting captain Tathiana Garbin.
“We needed such a victory,” Garbin said. “I had a great desire to honour the colours of my country, this special Italian shirt.
“Cocciaretto’s victory is an exceptional result. We are thinking about the group, we are thinking about building for the future, and this is the most important thing.”
- Venue: Sala Polivalenta, Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Surface: hard, indoors
- Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA) d. Irina Maria Bara (ROU) 6-1 6-4
- Martina Trevisan (ITA) d. Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) 6-2 2-6 7-6(5)
- Elena Gabriela Ruse (ROU) d. Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 1-6 6-3 6-4
- Elisabetta Cocciaretto (ITA) d. Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) 7-5 7-6(5)
- Monica Niculescu/Elena Gabriela Ruse (ROU) v Giulia Gatto-Monticone/Jasmine Paolini (ITA) – not played
Ukraine 4 / Japan 0
World No 5 Elina Svitolina completed a nerve-racking victory over Japan’s Yuki Naito on the clay courts of Chornomorsk.
After a routine opening set, the superb and extremely composed Naito retaliated in the second before fortunes fluctuated almost at will in the third but Svitolina’s quality told as she prevailed in the tiebreak, 6-2 4-6 7-6(3).
Svitolina’s triumph propelled Ukraine into an unassailable 3-0 lead against their inexperienced, but incredibly gutsy, visitors and confirmed her nation’s elevation to the higher echelons of the competition.
“I am convinced we have a great team,” said Svitolina. “Everyone has a high ranking and high performance and the team is very balanced. I think we have a good chance to play and compete against the best teams [next year].
“We are very close and that motivates each of us to go for more and we have a really warm spirit which is really amazing and pushes us to get better results.
“It has been really nice to get together again this week and we have had a lot of fun. I’m lucky that I got to play on this court again and also that we have had Ukrainian food throughout the week, which I have really enjoyed as I miss it so much on Tour.
“I love borsch and that is what I have been eating every day and maybe that is the secret to success.”
- Venue: Elite Tennis Club, Chornomorsk, Ukraine; Surface: clay, outdoors
- Elina Svitolina (UKR) d. Chihiro Muramatsu (JPN) 6-3 6-2
- Marta Kostyuk (UKR) d. Yuki Naito (JPN) 6-3 6-3
- Elina Svitolina (UKR) d. Yuki Naito (JPN) 6-2 4-6 7-6(3)
- Marta Kostyuk (UKR) v Chihiro Muramatsu (JPN) – not played
- Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok (UKR) d. Shiho Akita/Himari Sato (JPN) 6-2 7-6(2)
Argentina 2 / Kazakstan 3
Yaroslava Shvedova captained her team on and off the court to a memorable victory over Argentina.
In the first match on Saturday, the battle of the No 1s, Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina overcame Nadia Podoroska 6-4 6-4 before Lourdes Carle clinched victory over Yulia Putintseva 6-7(3) 7-6(3) ret., after the visitor couldn’t continue due to cramp in her legs.
The deciding doubles was all Kazakhstan. Captain Shvedova left her chair and donned her shirt alongside Anna Danilina to defeat Podoroska & Carle 6-0 7-5 in match where the visiting side were better from the first moment, even though the Argentines did have a set point in the second set.
“It was a long tie,” said Shvedova., “Accentuated by the injuries, the public created a great atmosphere and we are very happy to take this victory home with us.”
- Venue: Cordoba Lawn Tennis Club, Cordoba, Argentina; Surface: clay, outdoors
- Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) d. Nadia Podoroska (ARG) 2-6 6-4 6-0
- Maria Lourdes Carle (ARG) d. Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 6-4 3-6 6-0
- Elena Rybakina (KAZ) d. Nadia Podoroska (ARG) 6-4 6-4
- Maria Lourdes Carle (ARG) d. Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-7(3) 7-6(3) 0-0 retired
- Anna Danilina/Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) d. Maria Lourdes Carle/Nadia Podoroska (ARG) 6-0 7-5
Latvia 3 / India 1
Anastasija Sevastova showed her superior skills against Ankita Raina to secure an unassailable 3-0 lead over India, and despite not having any spectators to cheer them on, hosts Latvia were the clear favourites.
The World No 47 sealed the tie with a 6-0 7-6(4) win in an hour 31 minutes.
Sevastova wasted no time getting out of the blocks but relinquished her grip in the second set and allowed Raina to gain two set points at 5-3.
The Latvian, however, was more solid, rather than brilliant, and hardly looked as if she would relinquish her grip on the match.
“I started the second set badly, perhaps I lost concentration, maybe I was a bit tired,” Sevastova said. “I didn’t play that well in the first set either, she gave me a lot of points and when she starts to lead, she plays better and she has nothing to lose and I had to stay with her in the rallies.
“It’s good to have matches with tough situations like these and I managed to get through them.”
The dead doubles match brought a consolation point for India after Rutuja Bhosale & Zeel Desai defeated Daniela Vismane & Patricija Spaka 6-4 5-7 [10-2] to make the final score 3-1.
- Venue: National Tennis Centre Lielupe, Jurmala, Latvia; Surface: hard, indoors
- Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) d. Ankita Raina (IND) 6-2 5-7 7-5
- Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) d. Karman Kaur Thandi (IND) 6-4 6-0
- Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) d. Ankita Raina (IND) 6-0 7-6(4)
- Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) v Karman Kaur Thandi (IND) – not played
- Rutuja Bhosale/Zeel Desai (IND) d. Patricija Spaka/Daniela Vismane (LAT) 6-4 5-7 [10-2]
Netherlands 3 / China, PR 2
The Netherlands and China, PR tie went the distance in ’s-Hertogenbosch, with the home team, led by World No 11 Kiki Bertens, coming back from 2-1 down to end a five-tie losing streak.
Saturday started with unfortunate news for the home team, with Dutch No 1 Bertens, who showed no signs of injury during her emphatic win over Wang Xinyu on Friday, woke up with pain in her troublesome left achilles and was not able to play her singles match against Wang Xiyu.
‘It felt different compared to the rest of the week. I warmed up, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t,” she said. “There was cursing and there were tears, because I felt like I was letting the team down, even though I played my part on Friday.”
The 20-year-old Wang Xiyu, victorious on Friday against Rus as well, went on to defeat Bertens’ replacement Lesley Pattinama-Kerkhove, 6-3 5-7 6-4, handing the visitors an important 2-1 lead on the indoor clay court in the Maaspoort Sports & Events venue.
To keep the home team’s hopes alive, Rus had to overcome 19-year-old Wang Xinyu and while the Chinese teenager made the better start, she could not hold on to an early break advantage.
Rus stayed level-headed throughout the clash against the inexperienced Wang Xinyu, who needed a second off court medical time-out down retired after returning, two points later.
Both teams elected to change their line-up for the tie-deciding doubles match. Xu Yifan replaced Zheng Saisai and paired up with Zhang Shuai, while Rus took Pattinama-Kerkhove’s place alongside World No 11 and reigning Doha and Charleston doubles champion Demi Schuurs.
The Dutch needed less than 15 minutes to take a 5-0 lead in the first set and eventually clinched it, but the Chinese duo responded in the second, moving ahead 3-1 when a stunning return winner down the line from Rus brought the home team back on serve and in control of the match.
Xu Yifan double-faulted 3 times at 3-3, gifting another break of serve to the Netherlands who, at 5-4 served out the match.
- Venue: Maaspoort Sports & Events, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; Surface: clay, indoors
- Kiki Bertens (NED) d. Wang Xinyu (CHN) 6-2 6-0
- Wang Xiyu (CHN) d. Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-1 3-6 6-2
- Wang Xiyu (CHN) d. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (NED) 6-3 5-7 6-4
- Arantxa Rus (NED) d. Wang Xinyu (CHN) 6-4 4-3 retired
- Arantxa Rus/Demi Schuurs (NED) d. Xu YiFan/Zhang Shuai (CHN) 6-1 6-4
Poland 3 / Brazil 2
Magdalena Frech & Katarzyna Kawa recovered from a set down to defeat the Brazilian pairing of Carolina Meligeni Rodirigues Alves & Luisa Stefani in a tense doubles match to secure Poland’s place in next years’ Qualifiers.
The Polish pair eventually served out for a 1-6 6-2 6-4 victory in an hour 44 minutes, marking the second time on Saturday that Frech had come back from a set down to win.
The World No 157 defeated Laura Pigossi in a marathon 3-setter in the day’s opening match, posting a 4-6 6-3 7-6(6) victory in 3 hours 4 minutes, but Alves kept Brazil alive with a 6-3 7-5 triumph over Kawa, who had been brought in to replace Urszula Radwanska, in an hour 29 minutes to send the tie to the decisive doubles clash.
“It was unbelievable weekend, the matches were definitely very exciting,” Kawa enthused after the doubles. “I did not manage [to get the win] in singles, but I am glad that we turned the match with Magdalena Frech in doubles and finally we won.
“It was a very important match, we felt that the burden was on our shoulders.”
- Venue: Hala Na Skarpie, Bytom, Poland; Surface: hard, indoors
- Magdalena Frech (POL) d. Carolina Meligeni Rodrigues Alves (BRA) 6-4 6-3
- Laura Pigossi (BRA) d. Urszula Radwanska (POL) 7-6(9) 3-6 6-2
- Magdalena Frech (POL) d. Laura Pigossi (BRA) 6-4 3-6 7-6(4)
- Carolina Meligeni Rodrigues Alves (BRA) d. Katarzyna Kawa (POL) 6-3 7-5
- Magdalena Frech/Katarzyna Kawa (POL) d. Carolina Meligeni Rodrigues Alves/Luisa Stefani (BRA) 1-6 6-2 6-4