The Billie Jean King Cup Finals opened in Glasgow on Tuesday with victories for Australia and Kazakstan over Slovakia and Great Britain respectively at the Emirates Arena where 12 national teams are competing for honours 8-13 November.
I came out swinging and she had obviously come out with a game plan which slightly suited me, I think, initially. She then completely changed her game plan, and I started to allow her to play the way that she [wanted], and she manoeuvred me around the court instead of me taking the lead. Katie Boulter
All 12 finalist nations are broadcasting the women’s World Cup of Tennis, with coverage in every other country being available directly on TV or on the Billie Jean King Cup live streaming platform.
In total, there are 40 broadcasters covering 196 territories, with over 30 being geo-targeted by Facebook Live, while here in the UK fans can watch all the action live on the BBC Sport website and iPlayer, as well as BT Sport.
For this country, the LTA’s successful bid to host the BJK Cup Finals is a means of showcasing women’s tennis domestically but the country’s trump card, Emma Raducanu, is missing from the action due to a wrist injury and Team GB acutely felt her absence as they lost their opening Group C match in Glasgow, with Harriet Dart falling in straight sets to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina after Yulia Putintseva battled past British No 3 Katie Boulter.
Although Olivia Nicholls & Alicia Barnett pulled out an impressive win over Rybakina & Anna Dalinina in the dead rubber, Britain’s prospects of qualifying for the semi-finals are greatly diminished as the team must now beat Spain on Thursday.
Britain’s presence in the prestigious competition here is by virtue of being the host nation of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals, having narrowly missed out on direct entry at the hands of 11-time champions Czech Republic.
Anne Keothavong’s team pushed the Czechs all the way in the Qualifiers in Prague in April, with a win apiece for Raducanu and Dart cancelling out two singles victories for Marketa Vondrousova and forcing a deciding doubles encounter in which Karolina Muchova & Vondrousova overpowered Dart & Katie Swan.
Despite speaking with confidence on Monday about their chances of using home advantage to spring a surprise, Team GB were outclassed by Kazakstan in front of a sparse home crowd.
On Tuesday, in the first rubber, Boulter led the British charge against Kazakhstan’s most experienced team member, Putintseva, but lost out to the World No 51, 4-6 6-3 6-2.
Boulter formed part of the side that went head-to-head with Kazakhstan back in 2019, when Great Britain tasted sweet victory after their 3-1 win in the Word Group II play-offs.
Despite a fiery start from Boulter, it was the tenacious Kazakh who emerged with the spoils in their second meeting.
A robust start by the Briton paved the way as Putintseva showed signs of nerves, but the Kazakh upped her first serve percentage to 70% in the second, and found a one-break lead to push for a deciding shootout.
Boulter continued to show her great determination but Putintseva held the edge as she gained an immediate double break with pinpoint accuracy and sheer power to give her nation the advantage.
The three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist first raced to a 4-0 lead in the decider and, after missing 4 chances to make it 5-0, she soon wrapped up the match for the win.
“I love the atmosphere, I really enjoyed playing here and I was trying to adapt for any situation,” Putintseva said afterwards. “I’m just trying to bring my fighting spirit for my country and do my best.”
It was only Boulter’s second loss in 11 matches in the competition, with her first coming against the same player in a tie at London’s Copper Box in 2019.
“I came out swinging and she had obviously come out with a game plan which slightly suited me, I think, initially,” Boulter said. “She then completely changed her game plan, and I started to allow her to play the way that she [wanted], and she manoeuvred me around the court instead of me taking the lead.”
Boulter took a medical time-out after 3 games of the decider for treatment to her left calf but shrugged off any concerns about being fit for Thursday.
On the disappointing crowd, Boulter said: “I felt like there was a good atmosphere.
“The Kazakhstanis are always going to bring their drums and it’s always going to be a fight with the noise level because they want to win that one. I think they did today probably.
“I just appreciate having anyone supporting me right now. It would be nice to see a little bit more rowdy crowd out there for sure.”
In her 5th Billie Jean King Cup tie, Dart faced her most challenging encounter yet as she battled Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, and the second rubber eventually ended in a 2-0 deficit for Team GB as the Kazakh took a firm grip to win through, 6-1 6-3.
Dart broke into the top 100 this year, reaching the 2nd-round at both Wimbledon and the US Open, but the 26-year-old was ultimately outclassed on Tuesday evening, despite being quick out of the blocks, and going on the offence to muster the first deuce of the match on the Rybakina serve, after which the World No 22 snapped the first break and rode out the set.
Trailing, Dart broke through, holding Rybakina to love to forge her first break of the match, bringing the set back to parity at 2-2 before consolidating her equaliser with a crucial hold.
Dart squandered 2 points to take a 5-4 lead after netting a short forehand and then double-faulting.
Sensing her chance, Rybakina wasted no time in seizing the break and then serving out with little fuss, putting the match to bed in an hour and 15 minutes.
“It wasn’t an easy match, it was tough but I’m happy that I won it in two sets,” Rybakina said. “[In the second set] my focus was a bit up and down, I didn’t play well for two games on my serve but in the end I managed to win.
“My serve is helping me a lot, and in the tight moments I played well.”
Rybakina slammed 16 winners over the course of the match, including 2 searing forehands to capture both breaks in a dominant first set.
Britain’s top doubles pair, Barnett & Nicholls, made a memorable debut in defeating this year’s Sydney Open doubles champion, Danilina, and Grand Slam winner, Rybakina, 7-5 6-3.
The opening set saw the Brits deliver an impressive 73% of points won on first serve, compared to their opponent’s 61%.
A break of serve at 4-3 by Danilina & Rybakina prompted an immediate response from the British pair as they defended comfortably to level.
On the brink of a second, Barnett & Nicholls were awarded the first set point of the match but were unable to find an opening in the Kazakhstani defence., but they did not make the same mistake twice as they capitalised on a second set point, putting Britain in the lead.
With some courageous play, Barnett & Nicholls garnered their 3rd break of the match, and a serve and volley finished off the job on match point to give Britain a point on the board in Group C.
With 4 groups of 3 nations, only one team qualifies from the round-robin stage to make the semi-finals and GB next will face Spain on Thursday, by which time they could already be eliminated if Kazakhstan go on to beat Spain on Wednesday.
In Group B, Australia made to the top their leaderboard after defeating Slovakia, 2-1, giving them a chance to seal their spot in the semi-finals if they succeed against Belgium on Thursday.
No 237-ranked Storm Sanders kicked off the tie with a 6-4 6-3 win over Viktoria Kuzmova, before Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic sealed victory by defeating Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-1 6-2.
It was Tomljanovic’s 4th win in 4 meetings with Schmiedlova, including 3 this season alone.
Slovakia managed to get a point on the board as Kuzmova joined forces with Tereza Mihalikova to edge the doubles rubber, 2-6 6-3 [10-6], over Sanders & Ellen Perez.
On Wednesday, Switzerland, Italy, USA, Poland, Spain and Belgium kick off their campaigns in further action in the women’s World Cup of Tennis.
Click here to view the full Billie Jean King Cup Finals draw.