Four years after escaping the lowly zonal groups of the Billie Jean King Cup with a monumental win inside a pulsating Copper Box, Great Britain returned to the same venue as one of the best tennis nations in the world and confidently maintained their spot among the elite with a commanding 3-1 win over Sweden.
Katie Boulter continued to play her role as Great Britain’s leader to perfection as she delivered her second win of the tie with a tough 6-1, 7-6 (5) win over Kajsa Rinaldo Persson. The contest was sealed by a solid performance from Harriet Dart, who kept her head and maintained her composure as she defeated Caijsa Hennemann 7-5, 6-2.
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With their victory in the playoffs, Great Britain will advance to the qualifiers next April, where they will fight for a place in the finals.
“It’s great that we got the job done,” said Anne Keothavong, the British captain. “[There] may have been a few bumps along the way but we did what was necessary today.”
The tie had begun with a warning on Saturday afternoon as Persson, ranked No 372, played far above her ranking to dig out a 6-4, 6-1 win against the No 93, Jodie Burrage, who froze under the pressure of her Billie Jean Cup debut. Boulter quickly levelled the match with an efficient 6-2, 6-1 win against Hennemann.
From the beginning of the match against Persson, Boulter showed her quality by dominating from inside the baseline with controlled aggression as she blazed through an easy first set. But Persson again played extremely well, retrieving and counterpunching brilliantly as her defence began to elicit errors from the British No 1.
Persson led 5-3, 40-15 in set two, and a third set seemed inevitable, but Boulter rode her luck and demonstrated her mental toughness. Down two set points, Boulter struck a lucky net cord winner before a double fault from the Swede eliminated the set points.
But then Boulter found her feet, dragging herself back into the set and then taking control in the decisive moments right at the end of an arduous tie-break. From 4-5 down in the tie-break, Boulter won the final three points to advance.
“You’re not gonna win a set after saving set points without a little bit of heart, a little bit of luck and a little bit of hard work, trusting the process and what I’ve put in these past many countless years,” Boulter said.
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After Burrage’s unfortunate performance in the opening rubber, the team selections on Sunday were unsurprising. Keothavong did not hesitate to replace the British No 2 with Dart, the world No 138, who led her team to the semi-finals last year. Dart’s consistency and focus in the decisive moments drove her to a confident victory against Hennemann, ranked No 532, who performed admirably herself but could not keep up.
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As she digested her final match of the season, Boulter reflected, with ample satisfaction, on both the best season of her career and her first without any significant injury issues. After being ranked No 157 in March, Boulter has shaved over 100 points off her ranking, reaching a career high of 50 and winning her first WTA title in Nottingham.
“It’s been a whirlwind for many different reasons,” Boulter said. “I think the work that I’ve put in the past 10 years has really started to show. You never know when you’re going to get your little break, and I finally got one this year. I felt that I used the momentum from the grass court season to the hard court swing.”
Keothavong echoed Boulter’s satisfaction. At the beginning of the grass court season, with the absence of Emma Raducanu, there were zero British players inside the WTA top 100. Since then, numerous British women have performed well and they finished the tour season on a positive note in front of around 5,500 people on home soil.
“They’re all in, generally, a good place at the moment,” Keothavong said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself or think too far into the future, but if they keep on putting the work in, there’s no reason why they can’t be right up there.”