Le Portel | Raducanu saves the day

Against all the odds, underdogs Great Britain are tied 1-1 with France after the first day of their Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Qualifier in Le Portel.

We go into tomorrow equal, and we’re not 2-0 down, which is very difficult to fight back from. For me, being a point down and playing against Caroline at home, I was the complete underdog. When I was a set and a break down, I just started swinging. I was like, ‘OK, we’re already losing so might as well go all out. Go big or go home’. We’re not going home just yet, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Emma Raducanu

With France hosting Team GB on the clay at Le Portel, the three-time champions started the tie with a significant home advantage, which was borne out across the first rubber and a half.

After Diane Parry, ranked 49, recovered from an early break to win 12 games on the trot against Katie Boulter, 6-2 6-0, and put France 1-0 up in the tie being played on the indoor clay court at Le Chaudron, Emma Raducanu looked on course to suffer a similar fate when Caroline Garcia led by a set and a break, but the 21-year old Brit produced a stunning come-back to win 3-6 6-3 6-2 and level the contest.

“It’s very difficult to play Caroline, who’s been having such a good season,” Raducanu said afterwards. “I was completely the underdog going out here, in her house on clay, but I fought really hard.

“I’m very pleased with my performance to bring this point home for the team.”

France and Great Britain went 43 years without meeting each other in women’s team competition, but they have now faced off in consecutive seasons.

In last year’s Qualifier in Coventry, France were 3-1 winners, and this time, with the home crowd behind them, and the clay beneath their feet, they came in as strong favourites.

Katie Boulter was outclassed by Diane Parry on the indoor clay court in Friday's opening rubber against France

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

The surface chosen by France certainly is playing its part, and neutralised Boulter’s big guns, the newly-minted World No 26 having never played a tour-level match on the surface prior to this tie.

Despite Boulter’s early edge, breaking Parry’s serve in the opening game, the Frenchwoman took charge of the contest from there on in.

There were lots of deuce games, but these all went Parry’s way, and her greater experience and guile on clay was evident as she displayed the full range of her shot-making.

As a result, Boulter’s forehand, which began as such a weapon, broke down against Parry’s slice, and, from 0-2 down, the Frenchwoman reeled off 12 games in a row to seal the win with an exceptional forehand winner.

“I have to get better on the clay,” 27-year-old Boulter told reporters later. “It’s such a learning experience, and it’s a really good learning experience for me. I know my base level is there, and that I can play some really good stuff.

“Practice has been awesome. The scoreline was tough, but I felt it was a lot closer than it seemed.”

Emma Raducanu produced one of her best performances against Caroline Garcia since winning the US Open in 2021

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

The day’s second singles also saw a big gap in experience between the two players on clay, Garcia having played more than 150 matches on the red dirt and winning most of them, while Raducanu came into the rubber with a 50% winning record from just 12 matches on it in her whole career.

Garcia, a former World No 4, started strongly, and impressively came through a hard fought opening set in 46 minutes, stepping in and taking returns early, but it was Raducanu who deployed the tactic in the second, and it helped to turn the tables.

“I actually wasn’t doing too much wrong, even though I was a set and break down, it just came down to a few break points on either side,” said Raducanu. “I think I took a more aggressive position from the second set onwards, and I got rewarded for taking more risks.”

Once Raducanu seized the momentum, she never looked back, continuing to dominate on return and keeping her ace count high too.

After holding for a 5-1 lead, the current World No 302 who has been ranked as high as No 10, fired an ace and lifted her arms up in celebration as she started to walk to the net with a huge grin on her face, only to quickly realise she was still a game away from actually winning the rubber.

“I think, sometimes, I’m just super locked in that I don’t get the score,” she explained later. “I’m not sure what happened, but it was quite embarrassing.

“All I was thinking was, ‘if I lose this right now I’m going to look like a right muppet’. So I’m very happy that I managed to pull it through in the next game.”

Garcia made her serve it out, but Raducanu made no mistake, winning with a powerful forehand drive volley, her first win over a Top 25 player since Indian Wells last year, and just her 4th since she became a US Open champion in 2021.

Raducanu won just 3 points against the Garcia first serve in the first set, but over half of those in the second, while, in the decider, the Frenchwoman’s first serve percentage plummeted to 38%, and the Brit took full advantage by repeatedly teeing off on her second serve for clean winners.

In total, the 21-year-old tallied 25 winners, including 16 off the forehand side, to only 11 unforced errors.

Diane Parry dispatched Katie Boulter and now faces Emma Raducanu in the reverse singles on Saturday

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

With the tie now evenly poised, there is all to play for on Day 2, when the reverse singles are played ahead of a potential doubles decider, if required, with the winners competing in November’s BJK Cup Finals in Seville.

France still have the crowd and the clay on their side, but Great Britain have the momentum, and Raducanu sent a clear message that she does not feel disadvantaged.

“I don’t mind playing against the crowd,” she said. “They can get as loud as they want. I think that’s a strength of mine.

“It was great to see so many Union Jacks out here, and great to hear the support of the bench. But ultimately it was just down to myself, my fight, and my performance. I’m very happy to have pulled it back, and to give the crowd something to cheer for tomorrow.”

Returning to the top level play after a lengthy injury layoff last year, Raducanu has taken an enormous step forward in rediscovering her form under the pressure of representing her country on an alien surface.

“Of course, we go into tomorrow equal, and we’re not 2-0 down, which is very difficult to fight back from,” said Raducanu. “For me, being a point down and playing against Caroline at home, I was the complete underdog. When I was a set and a break down, I just started swinging. I was like, ‘OK, we’re already losing so might as well go all out. Go big or go home’.

“We’re not going home just yet, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Saturday will see Boulter look to get back to her winning ways when she faces Garcia in a battle of the national No 1’s, while Raducanu will take on Parry.

Harriet Dart & Heather Watson will join forces to take on Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic in the potentially decisive doubles rubber.

Play starts at 12.30 on BBC iPlayer and the Red Button.



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