Great Britain shock Spain 3-0 to reach last four of Billie Jean King Cup Finals
As they returned to the Emirates Arena on Thursday for an essential, decisive tie against Spain, there were only two options left for the Great Britain team at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals: win every single match or go home.
With their backs firmly to the wall, they rose up to the occasion and pulled off the British women’s team’s greatest achievement in years, defeating Spain 3-0 to reach the semi-finals of the BJK Cup for the first time since 1981. Britain will face Australia in Saturday’s semi-final.
After Heather Watson opened up the tie by demolishing Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-0, 6-2, Harriet Dart stared down Paula Badosa, the world No 13, and produced perhaps the best display of her career, prevailing 6-3, 6-4 to force a decisive doubles rubber.
The debutant doubles specialist pairing of Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett were left to play for a semi-final in their first live rubber, a situation they handled spectacularly as they outclassed Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova 7-6(5), 6-2 to secure the victory of their lives.
“It’s a momentous moment,” said Anne Keothavong, the GB captain. “We are fortunate to be in this competition for reasons you’re all aware of, but to then deliver and get through to the semi-finals, I mean, it’s incredible. It really is. It’s down to the players. The way they approached the match today, yeah, just amazing.”
On Wednesday night, Spain’s 3-0 win over Kazakhstan meant that they needed to win only one rubber in order to advance to the semi-finals. Keothavong opted for a significant change as she replaced Katie Boulter as the second player with the experienced Watson.
The decision paid off in full. Watson, currently ranked No 115 in the world, was faultless. The 30-year-old played bold, attacking tennis with minimal errors, finishing the Spaniard off in just 67 minutes.
On paper, the greatest challenge of the tie was Badosa, who was world-ranked No 2 earlier this year. Dart, ranked 98th, had been completely overpowered by Elena Rybakina on Tuesday, but she entered the match determined to play on her terms.
From the beginning, the 26-year-old continually forced herself inside the baseline, taking the ball early, robbing time from Badosa and refusing to back down. Badosa played poorly, but throughout the second set she imposed ample pressure on Dart’s serve. Dart navigated numerous tough service games, continuing to trust that she could win on the front foot as she closed off a career win.
“Honestly, Heather’s match inspired me so much,” said Dart. “I’m just so proud to represent my country, to be able to also perform on home soil in front of a home crowd. Doesn’t get more special than that.”
Two days ago, 29-year-old Barnett and 28-year-old Nicholls were overjoyed just to mark their debuts with a win in a dead rubber against Kazakhstan. As two former college players who have spent most of their time on the ITF Circuit, nothing in their careers fully prepared them for such a significant match.
They handled the occasion with ease. They were sharp from the first point, then they moved through a tense first set tiebreak with poise and composure. With a set secured, both players relaxed, opening their shoulders as they guided Great Britain to an improbable semi-final.
“I’m not sure about miracles or anything, but I thought we just took every moment we could and just enjoyed every moment,” said Barnett. “Enjoyed being on home soil and it paid off. We have all lost our voices for it.”
Meanwhile, Jack Draper reached the semi-finals of the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan after defeating second seed Lorenzo Musetti 4-1, 4-0, 4-3(3).