Great Britain are seeded No 3 in the 16-nation Billie Jean King Cup Play-offs, and went into their tie against Sweden as the firm favourites, but representing one’s country can be a daunting task, which some rise to and some waver under, and Jodie Burrage found herself succumbing to nerves against Kajsa Rinaldo Persson, ranked 279 places lower, despite building a 4-0 lead.
We’re going to do the best we can. We don’t use the word ‘should’. Obviously, they’re going to have a swing, they’re going to have a go, and they’ve got no pressure at all. It’s my job to do what I can, and I know the girls are going to do what they can. Katie Boulter
Making her debut in the women’s team competition, 24-year old Burrage unravelled, and went down 6-4 6-1 to Persson in the first match at London’s Copper Box on Saturday, losing 8 games in a row.
“It’s so different when you’re playing for a team,” Burrage admitted later, fighting back tears. “That type of pressure, I’ve never really understood before, and I don’t think you ever do, until you do it. That’s why it hurts even more, because I’m hurting for other people.
“I’m very proud to represent my country, I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get everyone a win today. That is going to stick with me for a while. It’s tough to take.
“I have not felt like this, and even the nerves before, ever, even stepping out onto Centre Court doesn’t compare to this.”
Anne Keothavong, the GB captain, said: “Jodie’s earned the right to go out there. She’s had a fantastic year, she’s hopefully going to finish inside the top 100.
“It’s going be a tough one for her to take, but she’s going to have to find a way to bounce back if she’s going to keep on putting herself in position for selections.”
Sweden are missing their two highest-ranked players through injury, but Persson grabbed her chance to shine before British No 1 Katie Boulter steadied the ship by defeating 532nd-ranked Caijsa Hennemann, 6-2 6-1, to leave the tie level at 1-1 heading into Sunday’s concluding day, when two more wins are needed to secure overall victory.
“We’re going to do the best we can,” Boulter said. “We don’t use the word ‘should’. Obviously, they’re going to have a swing, they’re going to have a go, and they’ve got no pressure at all.
“It’s my job to do what I can, and I know the girls are going to do what they can.”
Whether Burrage, Britain’s No 2, is selected again on this occasion remains to be seen as Keothavong is able to call on the more experienced Harriet Dart or Heather Watson to step up.
Cheered on by a partisan crowd, Burrage started brightly before Persson went on her 8-game winning streak to dent the home favourite’s confidence.
She fended off 2 break points in a nervy opening service game, but raced out to a 4-0 lead after breaking Persson twice, until the Swede was able to overcome her slow start to win the next 6 games and land the first set.
Persson looked unstoppable when she claimed the first 2 games of the second, and, despite eventually holding to get herself back on the scoreboard, Burrage failed to threaten a come-back.
“This is one of the biggest wins of my career,” Persson said. “It wasn’t that great of a start for me, but right now I am super happy I got the win.”
Rankings don’t count for much in this competition, and Burrage is far from the first player to fail to handle the occasion.
She made 23 unforced errors in the first set, often missing by feet rather than inches as Persson’s come-back gathered pace, and lost 12 of the last 13 games.
Boulter backed her friend to bounce back, saying: “It’s part of tennis. There’s always going to be matches that we win, and some that we lose, and I think how you pick yourself up is what’s going to define you.
“She’s a tough cookie, I can assure you, she’s been through a lot of surgeries, she’s been through a lot of tough moments, and she knows how to pick herself up.
“The girl played very, very well, and we’ve got a battle going into tomorrow. They’re going to have a swing, they’ve got no pressure at all. We’re going to fight our little hearts out for it.”
Boulter proved a safe pair of hands when the 27-year-old stepped onto court against Hennemann, who also played well above her ranking, but was effectively overpowered from the back of the court.
The World No 58 opened up early leads in both sets, and saved all the 5 break points that she faced, dominating her 532nd-ranked opponent by playing calm, contained attacking tennis to brush aside the Swede.
Should Britain lose the best-of-five series on Sunday, Keothavong’s squad will be demoted to the Group I stage of the competition, which is the level below the top world tier and played regionally in the European/African zone.
Sweden, who are 4-time BJK Cup quarter-finalists, also are vying for promotion into the top tier of the team event, having played in the European/African zone since 2016.
“The support from the crowd was something special,” said Boulter. “I hope a lot of the people are coming back tomorrow. It’s going to be key for us. This tie is really important. We want to get back to where we believe we belong.”
Play starts at the Copper Box at Noon on Sunday and can be watched live on BBC iPlayers and BBC website.
Elsewhere, Japan, Brazil, Romania and Slovakia have booked their places in the 2024 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers after winning their Play-off ties on Saturday
It was all to play for in Tokyo after the opening day ended with the score at 1-1 between Japan and Colombia and this tie needed a decisive doubles match to find a winner.
Camila Osorio got Colombia off to a flying start by winning her match against Nao Hibino, 6-2 6-0, in just 57 minutes, with Mai Hontama responding for the home side as she beat Maria Herazo Gonzalez, 6-2 6-2.
It came down to a doubles shoot-out to decide the tie, with the home side holding their nerve as Shuko Aoyama & Ena Shibahara beat the Colombian duo of Osorio & Yuliana Lizarazo, 7-5 6-2.
Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia is the highest-ranked player competing in this weekend’s Billie Jean King Cup Play-offs and the World No 11 highlighted her class by easing her nation to victory against Korea, Rep. in Brasilia.
With the home side in control of the tie after winning both singles matches on the opening day, Haddad Maia wasted little time in wrapping up a Brazilian victory as she beat Sohyun Park, 6-2 6-1, in 66 minutes.
“It’s very special to play at home,” Haddad Maia said. “Travelling a lot around the world it is very difficult to feel at home, but it is very special to receive your energy, not only for me, but for everyone who is here. I hope we can bring a lot of joy to you.”
Billie Jean King Cup Play-off results as of Saturday
Romania’s dominant performance against Serbia in Kraljevo continued on Saturday, as a 3-set win for Jaqueline Cristian wrapped up the tie for the visitors.
With Romania leading 2-0 after the opening day, the home fans were given hope when Lola Radivojevic fought back after losing the first set against Cristian, but the decisive set was won by the visiting player as she sealed a 7-5 4-6 7-5 win to ensure Romania will play in the Qualifiers for a third successive year.
In Bratislava, Slovakia’s World No 610 Renata Jamrichova was the toast of the home fans as she claimed a stunning victory against Argentina’s World No 78 Nadia Podoroska.
Jamrichova’s 6-4 6-1 win gave Viktoria Hruncakova a chance to wrap up the tie, and she duly delivered with 3-6 6-4 6-4 victory to send Slovakia into the Qualifiers.
Ukraine and the Netherlands will resume their tie in Lithuania on Sunday with all to play for, after a tense first day saw both teams claim singles wins.
World No 27 Anhelina Kalinina overpowered Suzan Lamens from the Netherlands as she wrapped up a 6-2 6-3 win, but the Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska could not deliver a second singles win as she lost 6-3 6-2 against Arantxa Rus.
It was equally tight in Austria, as the home side head into day two of their tie against Mexico tied at 1-1, with Belgium and Hungary also level after sharing the singles matches on day one of their tie in Charleroi.