It took 5 tiebreak sets for France to go 2-0 up against Great Britain in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier taking place in front of an enthusiastic 2000-strong crowd at the Coventry Building Society Arena on Friday, with Caroline Garcia taken the distance by Katie Boulter, and Alizé Cornet edging her way past Harriet Dart.
Both Harriet and Katie should feel proud of their efforts today. It just came down to a few points here and there. You win some, you lose some, but we’ve got to get it back together. There’s no time to dwell on the results today [though]. We’ll come back fighting and ready tomorrow morning. Anne Keothavong, Great Britain's Billie Jean King Cup team captain
France is now poised on the brink of qualifying for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November, unless Team GB can reverse matters on Saturday.
Garcia, the World No 5, was pushed to the limit by Boulter, who is ranked 154 and was punching above her weight for 3 hours and 26 minutes before the French No 1 eventually came through, 6-7(2) 7-6(4) 7-6(2).
Then Cornet, who is now ranked 70 but has been as high as 11th in the world, secured the second point of the day with a 7-6(6) 7-6(3) win over 138th-ranked Harriet Dart in the best-of-five rubber tie, which concludes on Saturday.
Boulter, who has gone the distance in each of her last 5 clashes against Top 10 players, came agonisingly close to pulling off the upset against Garcia, taking the first set on the breaker and leading 4-2 in the decider, but the Frenchwoman is made of stern stuff, and is renowned for fighting back.
“I’m [always] going to put everything that I have into every single match for my country,” a disappointed Boulter said afterwards. “It means everything to me and so much more.
“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.
“I just hope I can use the momentum and keep things going,” she added.
Dart, Britain’s hero in the team’s run to the semi-finals of the BJK Cup last year, then failed to capitalise on her chances against Cornet, losing in 2 tight sets.
“Sport can be brutal at times!” reflected Anne Keothavong, Team GB’s captain, afterwards. “Both Harriet and Katie should feel proud of their efforts today.
“It just came down to a few points here and there. You win some, you lose some, but we’ve got to get it back together.
“There’s no time to dwell on the results today [though]. We’ll come back fighting and ready tomorrow morning.”
Both Garcia and Boulter broke serve in each set, with the French No 1 showing her greater experience in the high-stakes rubber, finishing it off with a flourishing ace.
“It was a crazy match, three hour-twenty or something – that’s pretty rare in tennis in three sets.” the 29-year old said later. “It was a lot of up and down. Three tie-breaks just says how tight the match was.
“Katie played unbelievable. She’s a great player. I’m sure she can do so much good in tennis. I just had to fight, it was played on a few points here and there.”
Garcia’s relief was evident in getting past the 26-year old British No 5, who is struggling to get her ranking into the Top 100 after suffering a devastating back injury and illness over the last couple of years or so, having trailed by a set and been a break down in the decider.
“She’s an incredible player,” Garcia said. “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.”
Boulter’s biggest chance came when she held 2 break points at 4-4 that would have left her serving for the match, but she could not convert on either, and then did well to save 2 match points on her own serve before Garcia broke free to show her class in the final breaker.
Dart is Britain’s top singles player in Coventry, after Emma Raducanu made herself unavailable for the tie, and she, too, fought valiantly, but she fell short against the tricky Cornet in two very different sets, the first punctuated by 6 breaks, followed by none in the second.
She defeated Paula Badosa and Ajla Tomljanovic in the finals last year, and looked well placed for a push up the rankings this season, but has struggled to win any matches, and has fallen well outside the Top 100.
33-year old Cornet, too, has also been in poor form, and it showed, with neither able to keep hold of any momentum in the opening set.
Dart was up a break 3 times, and served for the first set at 5-4, but was again broken, and then had to save 2 set points to force the breaker.
She had a chance there to clinch the set, but narrowly missed a forehand, and it was the experienced Cornet, who, after saving the set point at 5-6, took it, 8-6.
There were no breaks of serve in the second, and another tiebreak went the way of France when Cornet broke away at 5-1 to prevail after a 2 hour and 27 minute battle, leaving them firmly in control of the contest.
“I’m so relieved, it was such a huge fight against Harriet,” said Cornet. “I’m very happy to get through in two sets. The third set would’ve been very tough for both of us.
“Five tiebreaks today, this tie is so tough, and we knew we could not let go of a single point.”
France now only needs one further win to qualify for the finals, with two singles and a doubles slated for Saturday.
Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic helped France hoist the trophy in 2019, and they are joined by Cornet and youngster Clara Burel on the team competing in the Qualifiers, while Great Britain now faces an uphill task if they are to reach the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November.
Saturday sees the two reverse singles matches played, with Dart taking on Garcia, and Boulter against Cornet, along with a doubles rubber between Alicia Barnett & Olivia Nicholls against Garcia & Mladenovic.