Harriet Dart sat despondent with a towel covering her face after her loss to Caroline Garcia ended any hopes of a British revival in the Billie Jean King Cup.
The image of Dart with his head in his hands summed up the effort the British team had made to push France through this qualifier, but ultimately received no reward as they went 3-0 down with two to play.
Like her teammate Katie Boulter on Friday, Dart saved more match points against world No. 5 Garcia and took her to a deciding set, but this defeat ended any hopes of Great Britain reaching the tournament finals in November.
Going 2-0 down on Saturday, only a win by 26-year-old Dart in the opener could have kept Great Britain in the game. But overcoming defending WTA Finals champion Garcia proved too much of a hurdle for Dart, and he left the 2,000 crowd with what was essentially an exhibition match to watch, with the teams opting not to play the fourth singles .
While Friday’s action was decided by five tie-breaks and “brutal” sporting margins, as GB captain Anne Keothavong put it, Saturday’s action started with a whimper. Dart, who hasn’t won a tour-level main draw match since the United Cup in January, was quickly put in her place by Garcia, who needed 28 minutes to make the first set 6–1.
However, an off-court pep talk from Keothavong seemed to spur the British No. 3 into action, and the second set was more competitive, with Dart injecting some intensity into her game. She dismissed two match points and won the tiebreaker 12-10.
The energy was depleted from his racket thereafter, and it took Garcia 27 minutes to win the third set and this qualifier 6-1, 6-7, 6-1.
The only consolation was that British doubles Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett beat Kristina Mladenovic and Clara Burel 7-5, 3-6, 11-9 in the dead game, to make the final score 3-1.
“I am proud of the players. They gave it their all against much higher level opponents and there were chances,” Keothavong said. “It’s not easy to drop the opening set. [Dart] she lifted her game in that tiebreaker, she managed to keep her nerve better than Garcia. But if you allow your level to drop against a seasoned pro like that, then it’s an uphill battle.
Last season Great Britain lost at this stage of the competition but managed to qualify for the finals as the Lawn Tennis Association stepped in as hosts and reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1981. This time they will have to fight a play-off for avoid falling into the Europe/Africa regional Group One.
The hope is that British No1 Emma Raducanu, who starts her clay season in Stuttgart next week, will be able to play in November.
“I’d like to think that if he continues to play and is fit and healthy, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be in the squad in November,” said Keothavong of Raducanu.
“But there are still months to go. And it’s not just Emma, it’s other players to consider as well. Whoever is the freshest and healthiest will be part of the team”.