Le Portel | Team GB make the BJK Cup Finals after stunning France

Great Britain shocked favourites, France, 3-1, on their hosts home turf in their Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier at Le Portel on Saturday, with stunning performances from both Katie Boulter and Emma Raducanu.

I don’t know who said Brits can’t play on clay, but today was a bit of a test for it, and it showed we can. I’m very happy that we qualified for the finals. After all those tries, we deserve it on our own merit. Emma Raducanu

The tie was level at 1-1 after the opening day, when Boulter suffered a bruising defeat at the hands of Diane Parry but the British No 1 bounced back to beat Clara Burel, 7-5 6-0, before Raducanu sealed victory by once again coming from behind to defeat Parry, 4-6 6-1 7-6(1), in a thriller to book Britain’s spot in November’s Finals in Seville.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to try and wipe this smile off my face,” Team GB Captain Anne Keothavong said with a wide grin afterwards. “What a day, the atmosphere was just rocking, Katie and Emma came to play, and put in some fantastic performances against tough opposition.

“I’m just so chuffed for the team. We came here, and we knew it was going to be difficult. But we came, we performed, and we’re all leaving with a big smile.”

Britain avenged the defeat they suffered when France won on British soil in Coventry at this exact stage of the competition last year.

This time, though, with the home crowd against them, and the clay beneath their feet, Team GB admitted that they felt like the underdogs, and when France won the first 3 sets of this tie, and led by a break in the 4th set, the outcome looked bleak, but Raducanu’s inspired come-back against Caroline Garcia on Friday gave the side momentum, which they carried through to Saturday’s reverse singles.

Katie Boulter put her defeat on Day 1 behind her and produced a stunning win against Clara Burel to put GB 2-1 up against France on Saturday at Le Chaudron in Le Portel

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

Boulter had lost 12 games in a row against Parry in her first tour-level match on clay, but Keothavong fielded her again and was rewarded by a gritty, quality performance from the World No 26, who faced Burel, a late replacement for Garcia, the French No 1.

The first set took 72 minutes to resolve, and it fell to Boulter after shifts in momentum from both players, who kept recovering from improbable positions.

There was an extraordinary 20-minute, 9-deuce tussle on Boulter’s serve as the Brit saved 5 break points to move 4-3 ahead, but, despite all those missed opportunities, there was no hang-over for Burel as she quickly held serve and then broke the Brit to love.

Boulter then tipped the scales in her favour by reeling off 3 games to pocket the set after a defensive reflex lob-volley brought up set point, and then firing a barrage of forehands to seal it.

23-year old Burel could not recover her composure, and Boulter, her confidence now flowing, broke with a deft drop-shot at the start of the second, and stood firm for a crucial hold.

A 9-game winning streak helped dish out a bagel to claim a superb 7-5 6-0 victory, completely banishing Friday’s demons.

“I, kind of, lost my identity yesterday,” Boulter admitted. “I wasn’t going after my shots, I was trying to play like a stereotypical clay courter, and I don’t have that game in the bag. I just have to remember that my game is to hit the ball, go after it, and play big.

“It’s a really crucial point that I wanted get on the board, and I’m very happy with myself that I did.”

It seems Raducanu played a hand in boosting Boulter’s moral after the disappointing loss the day before.

“I actually got a very, very sweet message from Emma last night which really kick-started my day after her incredible performance,” Boulter said. “That was the main thing that got me through today.

“She said a few nice words, which means a lot coming from someone like her. She’s such a star and I have a lot of respect for what she’s done in the sport, the way that she plays and how relentless she is. I have a lot to learn from her.”

Emma Raducanu again had to come from a set down but defeated Diane Parry to send Great Britain to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

Boulter’s win put Britain 2-1 up, and it set the stage for former US Open champion Raducanu to deliver the ultimate triumph, but she had to work hard for it, pushed all the way by Diane Parry in a pulsating contest that lasted 2 hours and 52 minutes.

“To be able to put two matches like that, back-to-back, three sets and on clay against really tough opponents, it’s just a testament to the work we’ve been doing,” Raducanu told the BBC. “I knew it would pay off eventually, so I’m very pleased that this weekend it was able to show.

“On Thursday, before the tie, we said how tough this would be but, honestly, I had a good feeling about the confidence of our team.

“We have a very strong team and I am really pleased to have been able to score two points, but it helped so much having Boults this morning lead us to go 2-1 up.

“And obviously everyone on the bench, and the support staff, they’ve been working around the clock to keep us fit, and get us back on court, because we finished pretty late last night.

“So, it’s a massive shout out. It’s not just me and Boults, it was everyone.”

Raducanu lost a tight first set, which lasted just shy of an hour after Parry broke her in the 10th game much to the delight of a partisan home crowd, and helped by a miscalculation by the Brit, who decided to stop a point mid rally when she was serving to stay in the set, only to hand the Frenchwoman the impetus she needed to take the lead.

At the start of the second, Raducanu came through a mammoth service game, with 5 deuces, to hold, and then her returning suddenly caught fire, as she began to step in and dominate the rallies,

It swung the momentum in her favour, and by the time she was 40-0 up in the first game of the final set, she had won 17 points in a row.

Serving for the match at 5-3, Parry saved a couple of match points, including one with a perfect forehand passing shot, and then broke back.

At 5-5, Raducanu faced 2 more break points and, suddenly, everything looked to be slipping away, but she came through that game and then played a flawless tiebreak to finally get over the line, marking the first time that Great Britain have won a Billie Jean King Cup tie on clay since April 2007, when Raducanu was 4 years old.

“Especially being a set down, I was backed up against the wall and I didn’t want it to go to the [deciding] doubles because they’re a very strong doubles team [Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic],” Raducanu said. “It does feel really good.”

Emma Raducanu (C), Fran Jones (L) and Harriet Dart (R) celebrated with team-mates after winning the tie against France

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

The win sparked jubilant scenes, with Raducanu embraced by Keothavong before her team-mates ran on to the clay to celebrate a memorable victory for Britain.

“It’s incredible because two years ago we were the host nation of the Finals,” Keothavong said. “We were the wild-card entry, but we still made the semi-finals, and that was a fantastic week for the team.

“But on this occasion we’ve qualified ourselves. The players have done it, the team have worked together really well, and we deserve our spot there.

“That’s where I believe this team belongs. The girls are all hungry to go out there and perform. They’ve got a lot of things to do before then, but why not, it’s all to play for!”

Raducanu added: “I don’t know who said Brits can’t play on clay, but today was a bit of a test for it, and it showed we can.

“I’m very happy that we qualified for the finals. After all those tries, we deserve it on our own merit.”

In progressing to November’s 12-team finals in Seville, it is the first time Britain have gone so deep by right since 1990, when Jo Durie helped the nation to reach the quarter-finals.

A team effort on and off the court helped Great Britain to qualify for the BJK Cup Finals

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF



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