The 9 nations advancing to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November are determined, and Great Britain will not be among them, relegated instead to the Play-offs after an agonisingly close 3-1 loss to France in Coventry on Saturday.
“[France] fielded their strongest team and that’s out of respect for the team that we have... Yesterday, Boults, to play three tie-break sets against the World No 5 and have chances… there really wasn’t much in it at all. Same with Harriet against Cornet… it could have gone either way... It’s important that they’re able to take the good stuff that they get from these weeks into future tournaments and continue to build on their seasons. Anne Keothavong, Great Britain's Billie Jean King Cup team captain
Caroline Garcia, the World No 5, survived a late come-back by Harriet Dart to send France into the year-end Finals with a 6-1 6-7(10) 6-1, after the Brit saved 2 match points in the second set tiebreak before sending the rubber into a decider.
There, Garcia showed both her grit and her class as she held firm to break Dart twice to take the win, and leaving British hearts broken in the process.
Garcia survived 3 tiebreak sets in her first match on Day 1, and her team-mate Alizé Cornet also won in 2 tiebreak sets on Friday to start Saturday with a 2-0 lead.
In fact, Garcia, last year’s WTA Finals champion, had to rally from 2-4 down to in the 3rd set to beat Katie Boulder, 6-7(2) 7-6(4) 7-6(2), in a marathon match after 3 hours and 30 minutes, while Cornet battled past Harriet Dart, 7-6(6) 7-6(3).
“It was a great match, a great battle once again,” said Garcia. “We knew that it was going to be a battle from the first point to the last one over two days.”
The Brits were always the underdogs for this contest, given the sizeable gulf in rankings between Dart, the World No 138, Boulter, ranked 154, facing the World No 5 and No 70 Cornet, but Anne Keothavong’s team relish big stage opportunities on home soil, and they went toe-to-toe with France throughout.
Home hopes of a repeat of the heroics they displayed in reaching the semi-finals of this competition last November in Glasgow did not diminish until Garcia served out the winning point.
“They proved why they did so good last year in the Finals,” Garcia said. “We had to go very deep and I had to stay focused every time.
“I‘m very pleased with the performance. To be able to get the point for France and qualify is great.”
The French have won 3 Billie Jean King Cup titles, most recently in 2019.
There was some consolation for the Brits when Alicia Barnett & Olivia Nicholls snatched the dead doubles rubber against Clara Burel & Kristina Mladenovic, 7-5 3-6 [11-9].
For Great Britain, though, defeat means another home-or-away tie in November’s play-offs, eyeing a victory that would allow them to compete for a place in the Finals again in 2024.
“[France] fielded their strongest team and that’s out of respect for the team that we have,” said the British captain. “I’m proud of the players. They gave it their best against much higher ranked opponents and there were chances…
“That’s what we have to remember. Yesterday, Boults, to play three tie-break sets against the World No 5 and have chances… there really wasn’t much in it at all.
“Same with Harriet against Cornet… it could have gone either way.
“They should feel proud of themselves,” she added. “It hasn’t been the easiest of years for any of our players on our team. They’ve gone out there and shown what they’re capable of.
“It’s important that they’re able to take the good stuff that they get from these weeks into future tournaments and continue to build on their seasons.”
The hope is that British No 1 Emma Raducanu, who begins her clay-court season in Stuttgart on Monday, will be available to play in November.
“I would like to think if she continues playing and is fit and healthy I see no reason why she wouldn’t be part of the team in November,” Keothavong said. “But we’re still months away.
“And it’s not just Emma, it’s other players to consider as well. Whoever is the most fresh and healthy will be on the team.”
Elsewhere, Kazakhstan beat Poland 3-1, after Yulia Putintseva upset 2023 Australian Open semi-finalist Magda Linette, 7-5 6-3, to clinch her first Top 20 since last August.
Rybakina dropped her serve once to beat Weronika Falkowska, ranked 253, 6-4 6-3, ahead of the reigning Wimbledon and Indian Wells champion sealing the decisive point for Kazakhstan with a 6-4 6-2 win over Linette on indoor in Astana, winning 74% of her first serve points.
The Kazakh player won 3 games from 3-4 down with a break in the 9th game to take the first set, and earned an early break to love to open up a 2-0 lead.
Although Linette broke straight back to draw level to 2-2, Rybakina won 4 consecutive games with 2 breaks to seal the second and the tie.
“It was a difficult match today,” Rybakina said. “I felt so tired that even at the end, during the on-court interview, I didn’t understand the questions to be honest.
“I felt better yesterday, maybe some sort of fatigue from flying, and a recent return from America to Europe.
“But, as I say, I am delighted that Kazakhstan have once again made it to the Billie Jean King Cup finals and we will be able to fly our nation’s flag on this big stage.”
The best-of-five qualifiers feature 2 singles matches on Friday and 2 reverse singles plus a doubles rubber on Saturday, if required.
Poland, without injured World No 1 Iga Swiatek, finally got on the board when Weronika Falkowska & Alicja Rosolska won the doubles dead rubber.
On neutral ground in Antalya, Turkey, Marketa Vondrousova and Barbora Krejikova secured the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead with straight-set wins over the Ukraine on indoor clay, where the tie was held due to the war in Ukraine.
Former Roland Garros finalist Vondrousova cruised past Marta Kostyuk, 6-2 6-1, in an hour and 22 minutes, while Krejcikova overcame Katarina Zavatska, 6-4 6-3.
Kostyuk, though, upset Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, 3-6 6-1 6-4, in the first match on Saturday, but the Czech team secured their spot in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals after Vondrousova beat Zavatska, 6-3 6-4.
The Czechs have won 6 Billie Jean King titles between 2011 and 2018, and are looking to regain their dominance again in 2023.
In Delray Beach, the USA beat Austria, 4-0, after Jessica Pegula booked her team’s spot in the Finals with a 6-1 6-3 win over Julia Grabber in just just 55 minutes.
“I really wanted to clinch today,” Pegula admitted, having never secured the winning point in singles. “It’s so much more exiting when you get to guarantee your team through.”
The focus of the crowd this week has been on hometown player Coco Gauff, but Pegula has lived in Boca, just a few miles away, since she was a young girl.
“It’s nice to play at home,” she added. “We just played in Miami, and that felt like home too, so it’s been a fun few weeks.”
Pegula and Coco Gauff won their 3 singles matches without dropping a set, while Gauff & Caty McNally reprised their doubles partnership to beat Melanie Klaffner & Sinja Kraus, 6-1 6-4, in the doubles rubber.
In Marbella, top-seeded Spain took an insurmountable 3-0 lead when Nuria Parrizas Diaz breezed past Marcela Zacarias, 6-3 6-0, clinching their spot in the Finals, converting 5 of her 9 break points to prevail.
Spain is also hoping to recapture their title-winning past decade form when the Spaniards controlled the Billie Jean King Cup during the 1990s, winning 5 titles during behind the powerhouse duo of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez.
Tied at 1-1 after Friday’s matches, last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier earned a 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2 win over Beatriz Haddad Maia, ranked 14, to give Germany a 2-1 lead over Brazil in the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart.
Anna-Lena Friedsam then clinched Germany a spot in the Finals with a 6-1 6-0 win over Laura Pigossi, describing it as ‘golden day’.
Germany had forced their way back into contention in the tie the previous evening when Tatjana Maria staged an impressive come-back to defeat Pigossi and haul her nation level at 1-1.
“It was really a golden day for me – I played unbelievably well,” said Friedsam. “Before Jule played, I didn’t know whether I was going to play for 2-2 or 3-1, and I was just so happy that she won so I could play a little more relaxed. I am super happy with my performance.”
While Friedsam administered the knockout blow for Germany, the foundation on Day 2 was set by Niemeier and her stunning showing to outmanoeuvre the fearsome Brazilian.
“We talked about it as a team and, of course, it made sense,” said Niemeier. “We didn’t want Tatjana to play against Haddad Maia, so there was no other choice than to play with Anna-Lena and Tatjana yesterday. It made sense and it paid off.
“I am super happy and super proud of myself – and all the girls. I feel a bit overwhelmed to be honest. It has not been the best start for me this year, but I am happy and proud of my performance today.”
Meanwhile, Italy beat Slovakia 3-2, having ended the first day with a 2-0 lead with straight sets from Camila Giorgi over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-2 6-3, and Martina Trevisan over Martina Hruncakova, 7-6(9) 6-3.
On Saturday, though, Slovakia roared back as Schmiedlova and Hrunkacova won their singles matches over Jasmine Paolini, 6-1 4-6 6-4, and Elisabetta Cocciaretto, 6-3 7-6(2), respectively to level the tie at 2-2.
Hruncakova & Tereza Mihailikova served at 5-4 in the third set of the decisive doubles rubber, but Cocciaretto & Trevisan won 3 consecutive games with 2 breaks to take win in 3 sets, 6-4 4-6 7-5.
In another tie that went down to the wire on Saturday, Leylah Fernandez fought back from a set down to defeat Ysaline Bonaventure, 4-6 7-5 6-2, to give Canada a 2-1 lead, but Greet Minnen pulled the Belgians level again with a 6-2 3-6 6-3 win over Katherine Sebov.
After a back-and-forth weekend filled with close matches, Canada ended the tie with authority when Fernandez & Gabriela Dabrowski steam-rolled past Belgium’s Minnen & Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1 6-2, in the deciding doubles rubber, sending Canada into the Finals.
Meanwhile, Romania led 2-0 after Friday, but in a role reversal of Day 1, Tamara Zidansek and Kaja Juvan won their singles matches over Ana Bogdan and Jaqueline Cristian respectively, levelling up the tie.
The deciding doubles match between Slovenia and Romania was then delayed because of the weather with the score standing at 3-3 in the first set, and will resume on Sunday at 11 am local time in Slovenia.
The 9 triumphant teams from the Qualifiers go forward along with one wild-card to the Finals in November at a venue yet to be announced.